• 50 feet from Syria 2015

    ★★★ Watched 24 Dec, 2015

    Hisham Bismar is an American orthopedic surgeon. His Syrian heritage called him to the Turkey-Syria border to serve as a doctor treating victims of the civil war uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Assad's government used terror tactics on civilians, including many maimed children...dropping barrel bombs and sarin gas on the populace (this was before the advent of ISIS, which apparently doesn't play a part in the current documentary.) Dr. Bismar was a true hero, just about risking his life to bring medical care to the injured Syrians who managed to cross the border into Turkey, and who were often interviewed disguised, since their mere presence in this film could lead to repercussions against their families by the Syrian government. The film is an intimate portrait of the man and his difficult job, sometimes hard to watch among the carnage. As a documentary short it is timely and informative; however I might have wished for a treatment of the Syrian conflicts that was more broadly based to give me a better understanding of what was happening in the region to cause such turmoil along with the current refugee problems.

  • Creed

    Creed 2015

    ★★★★½ Watched 23 Dec, 2015

    Does the world actually need a re-boot of the Rocky series of films? The answer, from the evidence of this wonderful film, is HELL YEAH! Director Ryan Coogler, and especially actors Michael B. Jordan and an older, wiser Sylvester Stallone, bring a fresh outlook on the familiar boxing genre story which rekindles the spirit of the original film. Credit Coogler for designing just about perfect action sequences and montages, aided by a great musical score. And even though the plotting is familiar and somewhat predictable, darn it, the film still possesses enormous power to thrill, giving the audience an emotional wallop. Bravos all around!

  • By the Sea

    By the Sea 2015

    Watched 23 Dec, 2015

    A jaded American couple, whose marriage is on the rocks, check into a deluxe seaside French boutique hotel while the husband (Brad Pitt) tries to write his way through an extended writer's block. There they meet a younger, happily married couple (Melvil Poupaud, sexy as hell, and Mélanie Laurent), and become jealous voyeurs of that couple's life. That's the set-up for this languid, boring, stultifying, artistically pretentious film. The wife is played by writer-director Angelina Jolie-Pitt; and honestly, she should never direct herself. This film was painful to watch!

  • Childhood's End

    Childhood’s End 2015

    ★★★ Watched 18 Dec, 2015

    A suspiciously beneficent alien race appears in spaceships all over the Earth. Their ambassador (who looks like our traditional image of Satan) calls on one ordinary man (Mike Vogel, fresh from playing a similar role in TV's The Dome) to be his spokesman. The 3-part TV mini-series was adapted from an Arthur C. Clarke novel from SiFi's golden age; and the production design borrows heavily from another Clarke story which became 2001: A Space Odyssey. As in the previous film, we meet the aliens in a deluxe hotel like room; and the central "deus ex machina" device is a baby born to advance the human race. I enjoyed the first two episodes, especially when one of my favorite actors, Ashley Zukerman (from the TV series Manhattan) appears in part 2 as the father of the "space baby". But the story sort of peters out with the clumsy religiosity of part 3.

  • Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah

    ★★★½ Watched 22 Dec, 2015

    This short documentary is comprised mostly of an interview with the French director Claude Lanzmann who tells the story of the making of his signature epic documentary film Shoah. The film is informative and somewhat self-congratulatory. The now elderly Lanzmann speaks slowly in French; but obviously retains his memories; and his descriptions of such now dead friends as Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre are illuminating.

  • Anomalisa

    Anomalisa 2015

    ★★½ Watched 22 Dec, 2015

    Another Charlie Kaufman existential exercise in exploring the intrinsically perverse nature of the human race through neurotic characters that interact in one evening at a Cincinnati hotel. The question here is why animation (mostly stop-motion puppetry, although quite expressive and realistically portrayed)? Why only three voices (David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh effectively voice the romantic lead characters; but Tom Noonan voices all the other characters, men and women...seems like an unnecessary stunt.) Why does the usually provocative writer Kaufman put such banal dialog into his character's mouths?

    Bottom line: Why, period?

  • War Within the Walls

    ★★★★½ Watched 22 Dec, 2015

    Seen under the U.S. title of "Chau, beyond the lines."

    The Vietnamese teenager Chau is one of perhaps as many as 4 million plus maimed and deformed victims of Agent Orange which still ravages that country 40 years after the cessation of the American use of the toxic herbicide in the war. Chau was born with useless arms and legs; and spent his formative years institutionalized along with other children victims. However, Chau is an innately talented artist who learned to paint with a brush in his mouth and has become self-supporting from his art.

    The documentary short is narrated by Chau, and shows his development over several years. It is skillfully edited and ultimately emotionally devastating. Always implied is the staggering scope of the war crime that the U.S. committed while using Agent Orange (a personal note: my brother-in-law served in Vietnam and was affected to this day by his exposure to the chemical.) The film manages in a scant 34 minutes to hit every topic on point: epidemic birth defects, indomitable human spirit, inspirational personal journey.

  • Grandma

    Grandma 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 21 Dec, 2015

    This is the story of Elle, a widowed, lesbian grandma (Lily Tomlin in a role that fits her like a glove). At the start of the film, Elle's teen-age grand-daughter comes to her for money to solve a problem that she can't go to her pushy and judgmental mother (Marcia Gay Harden) with. The film then becomes a series of visits by the two women in search of the money. And every visit is either amusing or edifying in some way. Especially memorable: a trip into the past with Elle's embittered ex-husband played by Sam Elliott, never better. This is a social commentary film, well written with a light touch, and beautifully acted all around. Thank you, writer-director Paul Weitz, for making this near perfect gem of an indie film.

  • Body Team 12

    Body Team 12 2015

    ★★★ Watched 21 Dec, 2015

    The "Body Team 12" was a cadre of the Liberian Red Cross that worked tirelessly in Liberia to remove bodies of dead ebola victims to transport them to be cremated during the epidemic which ravaged West Africa in 2014. This short documentary was narrated by the one woman and mother in the team who braved the dangers of this dangerous, but vital, work. Somebody had to do it...taking disinfection precautions and struggling with the survivors who resisted their taking away the bodies. Unspoken were the obvious dangers to the invisible camera crew that shot the film, which added to the immediacy of the film. Also, thankfully, the film never dwelt on the victims, respecting their privacy in death. For all the horrors depicted on and off screen, the film retained an emotional reserve.

  • The Revenant

    The Revenant 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 19 Dec, 2015

    The always innovative director Alejandro Iñárritu, here re-creates the spirit of a Sam Peckenpah Western, telling an uncompromisingly brutal revenge story amidst the most realistic depiction we've seen on film to date of the early 19th century era of exploration and despoliation of the American northwest (fur trapping, native-American genocide etc.)

    It's a tribute to his cast that they all appear adequately ravaged by the elements. And full credit to the crew, especially some innovative winter-laden close-up cinematography by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski. The film also showcases an amazing soundscape of natural sound effects and a pastiche of a musical score. This is intimate film-making on a grand scale, as if David Lean were channeling Quentin Tarantino. Don't try to watch this chilly epic film on an iPhone!

  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

    Star Wars: The Force Awakens 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 19 Dec, 2015

    First of all, I'm not a fan of the Star Wars universe, although I've watched all of the previous six films on the big screen when they first came out. It isn't a spoiler to say that J.J. Abrams' reboot is more a sequel in themes and characters to the initial trilogy (now called Episodes IV-VI) than the last round of three prequels. And fittingly the huge advances in digital special effects since the originals are definitely shown off here to great effect.

    Let it suffice that Abrams and his creative team have done a more than adequate job of rekindling the spirit of the originals that made them such a Zeitgeist affecting series of films. That this is myth-making and space opera rather than pure science fiction goes to what makes the series so popular, and why I can't get behind it personally. But I have to admit that Abrams pulled the same sort of rabbit out of the hat that he did with rebooting Star Trek, creating again the feeling of the originals with a fan's sensibility combined with a skill for direction that equals or surpasses his predecessors. That is quite a coup; and let's give him full credit and mucho bucks.

  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2

    The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 2015

    ★★★ Watched 14 Dec, 2015

    Competent job of finishing off the series. Still, I can't repeat enough that Liam Hemsworth is better looking and a much better actor than his brother. That's all I have to say.

  • In the Heart of the Sea

    In the Heart of the Sea 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 12 Dec, 2015

    I'm at a loss as to why this stunning and accurate re-telling of the true story behind the novel "Moby Dick" has been so thoroughly savaged by critics. Sure one can't help noting the occasionally poor CGI, and some uneven acting (Chris Hemsworth is always a dubious lead actor when it comes to actual acting, instead of masculine posturing). Despite that, I was transported by the story and even found the mostly practical (as opposed to staged water tank) ocean scenes of squalls, whale hunting and adrift castaways thrilling. Ron Howard has not lost his touch for making pop movies that work for me, especially on the big screen. Don't try to watch this one on your iPhone if the story has any appeal to you at all (Melville isn't just one of those authors that you hated reading in high school; his novels remain amazingly relevant in this era of species decimation and ecological disasters.)

  • Macbeth

    Macbeth 2015

    ★★ Watched 12 Dec, 2015

    Despite superb technical credits (costumes, makeup, score and especially cinematography), this is a turgid, emotionally inert retelling of the Scottish play. The adaptation is terrible, emphasizing all the confusing aspects of the Elizabethan dramaturgy and making it even more obscure for a modern audience. The actors (especially Cotillard who seemed lost in the prose of Lady Macbeth, with nothing indicating her true character behind the eyes) tried valiantly to deal with their lines...but notably failed for this viewer, at least. OK, maybe I'm just a cranky spoil sport when it comes to Shakespeare; but I always seem to prefer it when films of his plays are given some sort of modern twist like Ian McKellan's Richard III. In this film, the emphasis was on the pseudo-historical ancient wars and warlords aspect of the history; and the personal dramas just got lost in the spectacle.

  • Viva

    Viva 2015

    ★★★★½ Watched 07 Dec, 2015

    A young, gay hairdresser seeks a career as a lip sync performer in a lovingly rendered Havana drag cabaret, when his homophobic father is released from prison after being absent since the boy was three years old. The two must figure out how to relate in this cross-cultural Irish film. The talented and preternaturally cute Hector Medina plays Jesus (stage name Viva)...and this is one of the most sympathetic performances of a young gay boy ever put on film. Hopefully, this touching and beautiful film will find its audience.

  • The Hateful Eight

    The Hateful Eight 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 06 Dec, 2015

    Quentin Tarantino's eighth film is an epic western stylized to the nth degree. It's the story of eight characters trapped together in a trading post during a Wyoming blizzard. It's all very talky and mostly confined to one room...for much of it's three hours it plays like a one-set stage play. However, when it does venture into nature the 70mm film projection is dazzling.

    I watched the traditional "road show" 70mm version, which starts with a lengthy overture scored by the fabulous Ennio Morricone under a static title card reading (surprise!) "Overture". In my opinion it is far from Morricone's best work...and struck me as a tad pretentious and a waste of anticipatory energy. However, my understanding is that after the initial two weeks of 70mm presentation, the re-edited digital version for the multiplexes will skip the overture (and also the 12 minute intermission.)

    The acting ensemble is flawless...too ideal to single out anyone in particular (but I especially liked Jennifer Jason Leigh's take on Daisy, the tough-girl murderess.) Tarantino in Q&A gave his influences as 1950's TV westerns...but for me the most apt comparison was with Hungarian director Bela Tarr's East European western manqué The Turin Horse, which it resembled thematically and pictorially (although I doubt that was on Tarantino's mind.)

    I've never been a huge Tarantino fan; and the violence of the last act here struck me as gratuitous and adolescent (the director loves to mock conventions for shock value like a young rebel filmmaker...for instance his constant use of the N-word here, authentic but grating.) Still, this is probably his most perfectly achieved cinematic experience on film.

  • The Lady in the Van

    The Lady in the Van 2015

    ★★½ Watched 06 Dec, 2015

    Maggie Smith! 'Nuff said. Well, no. The once and forever Dowager Countess of Grantham here is playing the polar opposite character of a homeless lady squatting in her dilapidated van for 15 years on playwright Alan Bennett's London home's driveway (likely based on Bennett's actual experience). It's all too twee and emotionally manipulative for my tastes. But I did appreciate the character Alan Bennett's taste in rent boys.

  • The Big Short

    The Big Short 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 05 Dec, 2015 2

    The worldwide financial meltdown of 2007-08 which led to the Great Recession was (and remains to this day) hard to understand. I've now watched several documentaries (and one enlightening fiction film: 99 Homes) about this event. But Adam McKay, whose oeuvre up to this point has been limited to silly satires about losers like Ron Burgundy and Ricky Bobby, has achieved something wonderful with this film, somehow humanizing and explicating the event by telling it through the actions of a series of "losers" who won big by actually foreseeing the calamity and betting against the Street. Thus, with some daring touches like breaking the fourth wall to bring expository details to light and superb use of montage and graphics, he makes the inexplicable explicable. Bravo! Oh, yeah, his actors (among them Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling) are all immaculately cast. And the film plays like an entertaining documentary on steroids. The bottom line: I'm going to have to take Adam McKay more seriously as an auteur and see if he can match the intelligence and wit of this film in the future.

  • Joy

    Joy 2015

    ★½ Watched 05 Dec, 2015 3

    David O. Russell's popularity and reputation for enlightened whimsy eludes me. I can't blame the actors in what has become his "stock company" for my dislike of this film. Rather it must be Russell's mechanistic, by-the-numbers script filled with neurotic characters acting nonsensically. I know I'm out of step with audiences here; so forget that I ever tried to review this film.

  • The Fencer

    The Fencer 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 04 Dec, 2015

    The Finnish director Klaus Härö is a world class director whose emotionally laden films never fail to move me. Here he tells the story of a high school teacher in 1952 Estonia SSR under suspicion in Stalin's post-WWII political pogroms, who kindles an interest in fencing in his enthusiastic students. Fine acting and cinematography; and a script which is dramatically effective, even if a little predictable.

  • Baby(a)lone

    Baby(a)lone 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 01 Dec, 2015

    It starts out like an update of The Breakfast Club, and then turned into a sort of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and finally into a sort of teenage Natural Born Killers. If that doesn't sound great then this film isn't for you! I loved it even as I cringed.

  • Trumbo

    Trumbo 2015

    ★★★ Watched 22 Nov, 2015 1

    Dalton Trumbo was a genuine Communist in the 1930s and 40s when that legal political party wasn't considered anathema to the American Way. He was also a fine screen writer and author, a family man, and a brave progressive. After WWII, Russia (and godless communism) were vilified; and Congress set out to purge Hollywood of the Red Menace. Trumbo was one of the "Hollywood 10" who went to prison for contempt of Congress in the late 40s. And hundreds of suspected leftists in the film business were blacklisted and lost their ability to work in the industry. The film Trumbo tells the story of one brave, committed activist writer...and by proxy the story of one of the darkest periods of American history where fear ruled Hollywood and the Bill of Rights was threatened.

    The movie had its heart in the right place; and Bryan Cranston is properly gruff and obsessively workaholic as Trumbo. However, the film was also quite TV movieish with a script that lacked subtlety along with rather pedestrian direction. Then again, Dalton Trumbo was an authentic leftist hero, and the blacklist is very relevant today in historical context. It's worth watching; but wait for the video.

  • The Danish Girl

    The Danish Girl 2015

    ★★ Watched 21 Nov, 2015

    I'll be honest. I love the movies, and I'd rather write a good review than a bad one. As the saying of my youth went..."if you can't say something nice about somebody just don't say anything." It especially pains me to pan a film which has such an important message to convey: exploring the earliest days when the medical community was starting to recognize transgender issues and consider surgical gender reassignment. Thus we have, The Danish Girl: good intentions, bad film.

    First, I love Eddie Redmayne. He's a fine actor who combines a fragile sensibility and an attractive youthful mien. But I never bought him as Lili, tortured woman trapped inside Einer's male body in 1920s Denmark. Redmayne got the demure femininity, and even the physical movement right up to a point. But it all seemed too studied, the acting technique showing through the outward appearance (which was fetching enough.) Second, the real center of the film was the role of Gerda (Alicia Vikander), who was Einer's wife (the film is based on real people.) And Gerda as written was a modern woman trapped in the body of a 1920s artist and housewife...suffering from her husband's forbidden proclivities, but somehow understanding and accepting them.

    Oh, there were things to admire here. Ben Whishaw was fine, playing a debonair gay man who loved Einer despite his one flaw of wanting to be a woman. And the cinematography had a sensual, period feel that was occasionally thrilling. But, nevertheless, watching this old fashioned melodrama of fatal human frailty was sheer torture for me. I'm sure that many will disagree with this. The film was warmly received by the audience and has a a topical timeliness in this year of Caitlyn and public restroom equality. But like previous award winning Tom Hooper films, for me there was just no there there.

  • Legend

    Legend 2015

    ★★★★½ Watched 22 Nov, 2015

    If I were solely responsible for handing out Oscars, then Tom Hardy would already have two statues. And this year, I'd for sure give him at least a lead actor Oscar nomination for his role of Reggie, the sociopathic straight Kray brother...plus a second supporting actor nomination for his role of Ronnie, the psychopathic gay Kray brother. For make no mistake about it, Hardy's twin portrayal is the stuff of acting legend.

    The film is pretty great, too. It's the based-on-fact story of twin gangster brothers who ruled the London underworld scene in the 1960s. Sure the Krays have already had their 15 minutes of fame in previous films and documentaries. But this script brings to the fore another point of view, that of the relatively obscure character of Reggie's wife (played by Emily Browning)...who narrates the film and brings some amount of objective humanity to the story.

    The special effect of one actor playing twins is nothing new. The digital technique was perfected in The Social Network; but it has never been so seamless and perfectly done as it is here. What is so remarkable is how Hardy handles the roles. Clearly Reggie (the straight, relatively sane brother) is the central character in writer/director Brian Helgeland's concept. But it is also evident that actor Hardy preferred the challenge of portraying the crazy, foxy gay twin, Ronnie. The duality makes for a scintillating whole.

    And while I'm at it, I'd like to give special mention to the immaculate production design, costumes, and cinematography which produced an extraordinarily realistic period London East End. And the exceptional orchestral score by Carter Berwell played all the right notes in defining the characters with their own themes and underscoring the action inventively. Maybe the script played it a little safe, following traditional gangster film tropes. But it also fully fleshed out the main characters giving the fine cast much to work with.

    Bottom line: this film belongs in the very short list of great gangster flicks from The Public Enemy through Goodfellas.

  • Spotlight

    Spotlight 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 15 Nov, 2015 2

    In 2001, the Boston Globe newspaper set out to expose the previously unacknowledged breadth of the Catholic Church's pedophile priest scandals. This film dramatizes that real-life journalistic endeavor...sort of an "All the Cardinal's Men" with a similar emphasis on the struggles of the fourth estate as it took on a powerful establishment entity (and in Boston, the Church was definitely powerful.) The film is immaculately cast. I especially admired Mark Ruffalo as obsessively dogged lead reporter Michael Rezendes; and Liev Schreiber's contrasting, quietly effective take on newly appointed Jewish editor Marty Baron. The dramatic build and details of the journalistic processes were realistically achieved by the excellent script. Nothing flashy about the film making here...just an involving drama of commitment to the nuts and bolts of muckraking journalism, with stakes that mattered. That was enough to keep me spellbound.

  • Youth

    Youth 2015

    ★★½ Watched 15 Nov, 2015

    Two 80-something friends are summering at a Swiss hotel/sanitarium in this arty, reflective (and to my mind pretentious) film about living life backwards. Or something like that. Michael Caine superbly internalizes the role of Fred, a retired classical composer offered a knighthood by QEII. And Harvey Keitel plays his old friend Mike, a creatively blocked movie director searching for an ending for his next project which would feature his muse (Jane Fonda in full monster star mode.) Like any Paolo Sorrentino film the production values are lavish. Here the Alpine setting, the vivid chiaroscuro of the cinematography, the original music, the supporting cast (including Paul Dano and Rachel Weisz), the trappings of wealth and fame are all stylishly presented with precision. But like Sorrentino's previous Oscar winner The Great Beauty, so reminiscent of late Fellini, this is all surface and solemn pretense to a profundity that just didn't add up for me. So maybe that makes me a Philistine. Your mileage may vary.

  • Carol

    Carol 2015

    ★★★★½ Watched 14 Nov, 2015

    Amazing direction, acting, script, music, cinematography, costumes, makeup, production design. Cate Blanchett delivers one of the great movie performances, saying it all with body language and expressive eyes. Rooney Mara belongs on the same screen, which is saying a lot! And Todd Haynes and the way he recreates the 1950s and represents point of view in such an original way has arguably made his masterpiece.

  • Racing Extinction

    Racing Extinction 2015

    ★★★ Watched 13 Nov, 2015

    According to this documentary, the Earth has experienced five former "extinction events," including the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. And now we're in the middle of a sixth...which is almost exclusively man made. And even scarier, homo sapiens itself may be scheduled for extinction (or species suicide) a lot sooner than we think due to some still under-appreciated causes of global warming (for instance the release of massive amounts of CO2 producing methane gas created by food animals such as cattle, and from untold deposits of the gas lying under the melting polar icecaps.) But the very real dangers of extinction apply to other species as well, especially to the oxygen supplying plankton in an increasingly acidified ocean, and creatures overfished by man for folk remedy purposes like sharks (for their fins) and mantas (for their gills)

    Director Psihoyos made one of the best ever environmental catastrophe documentaries about the mass killing of dolphins in Japan (using hidden cameras) in the film The Cove. And in this film he also utilizes hidden body cameras to uncover criminal activities which boggle the mind. And then he illustrates visually means to awaken awareness using illustrative projections on buildings such as the U.N. and the Empire State buildings. Still, the current film suffers from an information overload caused by a diffused editorial schema which jumps all over the map. The result is that the film's important, even vital message is blunted.

  • Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans

    Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans 2015

    ★★½ Watched 12 Nov, 2015

    This documentary focuses on the making of the feature film Le Mans circa 1970. That epic film about the famed formula one auto race was star Steve McQueen's personal vanity project. There was no script to start with; but a million feet of film was shot, some of the most authentic racing footage ever. The shoot went months and millions of dollars over budget, the discord on the set was legend, and the final product was eventually savaged by critics. The resulting documentary is interesting from the perspective of being about a relatively unknown piece of Hollywood history...and a glimpse into the life of a magnetic superstar at the height of his career. However, the documentary is as overlong and as thematically diffuse as the film it depicts.

  • What Happened, Miss Simone?

    What Happened, Miss Simone? 2015

    ★★★ Watched 12 Nov, 2015

    Nina Simone was a trained concert pianist and jazz vocalist whose career spanned from the 1960s until her death in 2003. Yet, why didn't I, a person who kept his finger on the pulse of popular culture in mid-20th century, know much about her or even appreciate her artistry the way it deserved? This film illustrates very well the answer to that question: Simone was a black power activist who was ignored to some degree by the star-making industry...and probably bipolar, making her a difficult subject to publicize. That her talent merited fame is undoubtedly true from the evidence of the many sublime performance film clips that director Liz Garbus has found. But the resulting documentary that delves closely into her peripatetic life (she lived for a time on three continents and in several countries) through interviews with her surviving daughter and ex-husband among others, is often hard to take. Her life story was that distressing.

  • Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine

    Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 11 Nov, 2015

    Director Alex Gibney's second iconoclastic documentary this year (following his impressive hatchet job on Scientology) attempts to get to the bottom of what made Steve Jobs tick. Gibney starts with questioning why so many people mourned Jobs's passing, not knowing at all the real person. Then, much better than the two theatrical features about Jobs so far, he presents the real man through an amazing number of film clips and interviews featuring this public man who hid so much about himself with prevarications and subterfuge. The film's editing schema is somewhat scattered, jumping around chronologically and thematically which blunts its impact a bit. I'm still not certain from what Gibney presents that I actually got Jobs, the control freak and (imho) errant visionary. But the film did illustrate the Apple philosophy that he created...which just reinforced my personal loathing of the company and its products all the way back to the Apple II computer. From the evidence of this film, I'm pretty sure I would have disliked Jobs in person just as much. Maybe that's what it takes to actually "think different."

  • Sherpa

    Sherpa 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 10 Nov, 2015

    Climbing Mt. Everest from the Nepali south side has become an industry in recent years. The companies that sell the service of making the climb as easy and safe as possible hire the local Sherpas to do the heavy lifting, a practice that goes all the way back to the 1950s when the world famous Sherpa Tenzing Norgay accompanied Sir Edmond Hillary on the first conquest of the mountain.

    This documentary starts out to tell the story of one such Sherpa in April, 2014, Phurba Tashi Sherpa, who has summited the peak 21 times and continues to serve as a guide for monetary reasons despite his family's worry for his life. During that climbing season an avalanche in the treacherous Khumbu icefall killed 16 Sherpas (however, Phurba Tashi was spared). So instead of a film about a Sherpa climbing the peak to set a record for the number of successful climbs, the second half of the film is devoted to a labor dispute, when the Sherpas strike for better pay and working conditions; and the entire season is cancelled. I guess this isn't as filmic as shooting the climb with state-of-the-art equipment would have been...but it does make for a more interesting issue based documentary. Did the Sherpas succeed in winning their strike? Did the 2015 season go on with no problems? The end credits answer these questions; and I try not to deal in spoilers. In any case, the film had some spectacular Himalayan cinematography, but never made it past about half way up the mountain...both literally and metaphorically.

  • The Russian Woodpecker

    The Russian Woodpecker 2015

    ★★½ Watched 09 Nov, 2015

    Fedor Alexandrovich is an Ukranian artist who, as a child, was forcibly evacuated from his home and parents in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster. This documentary tells the story of his present day obsession with that disaster, connected to what in the West was called "the Russian woodpecker," a clicking radio sound associated with the Cold War.

    The film also tells the story of the Ukranian uprising of winter 2013-14, which was much better told in the recent documentary Winter on Fire. But Fedor is more interested in discovering what he is certain was a conspiracy causing Chernobyl that connects the disaster to a huge neighboring construction called the Duga (an over-the-horizon radar installation built to detect American missile firings, possibly the cause of the "Russian woodpecker.") The story Fedor tells is a convoluted one, and concludes unsatisfactorily with no real proof of his conspiracy. Nevertheless, his paranoia and what disclosures the film does make about the deserted facilities, made for a reasonably interesting international thriller...even if a film that doesn't quite lead to anyplace concrete.

  • Meet the Patels

    Meet the Patels 2015

    ★★★ Watched 09 Nov, 2015

    Ravi Patel is approaching 30 and unmarried. He's an American born of Indian parents who wish him to follow the time honored tradition of entering into something of an arranged marriage with another of the myriad Patels worldwide. Ravi had been secretly seeing an Anglo girl, a relationship that seems to be going nowhere. So, accompanied by his (incidentally also unmarried) older sister as cinematographer, he sets out to document his worldwide search for a Patel wife.

    Utilizing on-screen animated narration and amusing personalized accounts of modern day dating, the documentary takes full advantage of actor Ravi's personable nature. However, the film goes on and on, and then doubles back on itself, so that by the end it comes off as somewhat self-indulgent. Entertaining, but trivial.

  • Becoming Bulletproof

    Becoming Bulletproof 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 09 Nov, 2015

    Every year a group of variously disabled persons are brought together in Venice, CA to make a movie. This documentary tells the story of their making of a Western feature film (called Bulletproof Jackson) by following several of the participants, focusing particularly on A. J., a severely disabled young man from Atlanta with cerebral palsy who plays the town mayor.

    This is definitely a positive energy, feel-good documentary which combines two Oscar bait qualities (disabled + cinema) into one inspirational film. That isn't to imply that the film is unworthy of recognition. As edited, combining personal stories with film clips from the final feature, this is fun and entertaining, as well as informative. Can't ask much more than that from a documentary.

  • Brooklyn

    Brooklyn 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 08 Nov, 2015

    An Irish girl emigrates from her dead-end, parochial Irish village to settle in Brooklyn in 1951. That's the set-up for this extraordinarily well made and moving (if stylistically resolutely retro-) film. Saoirse Ronan plays the girl, Eilis, with an innocence and scrubbed dignity that is like a breath of fresh air (but I still can't pronounce her first name despite hearing it several times in the Q&A after the film.) She is well matched with relative newcomer Emory Cohen as her Italian American boyfriend (this could be this actor's star-making performance...he's that good in the role.) The film has more emotionally affecting scenes than your average immigrant tearjerker, thanks to the acting and a fine adaptation by screen writer Nick Hornby from a novel I'd never heard of. Somehow the story managed to handle the disparity between longing for home and adapting to a new life in a novel way that I found immensely emotionally satisfying. I could rate this film even higher, and it is going to rank high in my list of year's best. However, if the film had any flaws it is that many of the subsidiary characters are cardboard clichés (although not Julie Walter's superb turn as a sympathetic boarding house landlady.) Still, this is one film that I was looking forward to that didn't disappoint.

  • The Outrageous Sophie Tucker

    The Outrageous Sophie Tucker 2014

    ★★★½ Watched 08 Nov, 2015

    Sophie Tucker was a red-hot, zaftig (heavyset) Jewish mother type who could really belt out a song. Her career started in vaudeville before WWI and continued in movies and on TV well into the 1960s. This documentary about her life is simply a collection of roughly chronological anecdotes utilizing her extensive collection of photos and letters that she herself meticulously collected in hundreds of scrapbooks over the years. The visual material is presented cleverly with graphics, film clips and GIFS. And Tucker's story is told through interviews with her surviving acquaintances, relatives and colleagues, along with an historian couple who wrote her biography. The presentation is slick; and Tucker a worthy subject...a nonpareil jazz singer and celebrity of her era comparable in some ways to a Bette Midler today, only more so.

  • Spectre

    Spectre 2015

    ★★ Watched 08 Nov, 2015

    Nothing exceeds like excess. Could there possibly have been one less building demolition (out of three?) Or one less helicopter stunt (out of three?) Or even one less car chase (were there two or three or four?...by then my eyes were glazing over.) Honestly, this just may be the last time I attend a Bond film. Even a "free" screening is too costly. Oh, I'm giving it two stars anyway because I love Ben Whishaw's Q and Léa Seydoux isn't chopped liver.

  • Janis: Little Girl Blue

    Janis: Little Girl Blue 2015

    ★★★ Watched 07 Nov, 2015 1

    This is definitely the year of the dead celebrity documentary...from Amy Winehouse to Kurt Cobain to Chris Farley and points in between. Add to the list this rather pedestrian biodoc about Janis Joplin. The film's flaws are certainly not Janis's fault. The performance footage is more or less fantastic, depending on one's attitude about her voice and her music. I was thoroughly a fan back in the day; and I loved the concert and session clips here [personal note: I first encountered Janis in real life back in 1966 when she sang at my sister's wedding in the Haight, and was blown away by her voice before she became famous. Then she sealed the deal with her amazing performance that I watched at Monterey Pop the next year.]

    But the film is badly organized, with confusing contemporary interviews that almost never clearly define who or why the big heads are being interviewed. Compared to other similar themed films, this one just doesn't go to that extra level of filmic razzmatazz. Straightforward chronological editing (with a mystery metaphorical transitional device of a diminishing train track used over and over) is just too predictable. Still, with a tragic and superbly talented subject like Janis, the film is watchable and entertaining even if it doesn't quite answer the riddle of what made this girl tick.

  • Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words

    Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 06 Nov, 2015

    Ingrid Bergman was a genuine Hollywood "star" who also managed to be a fine actress in several languages, and whose career spanned a longer period than most But, as illustrated in this film, she was also a real person. Bergman was an ardent home movie maker...and she shot much of it in high quality 16mm Kodachrome which looks stunning today. She also saved her diaries and copious correspondences with friends, of which passages are convincingly read by Alicia Vikander in Bergman's voice. In her own words, her career went from "saint to whore and back to saint again" in a remarkable way as she had four children by three husbands in a tabloid and paparazzi strewn life of fame and scandal that was ahead of its time.

    Thanks to interviews with her impressively verbal grown children (including famed actress Isabella Rossellini and her twin sister Isotta, plus brother Roberto Rossellini and eldest daughter, elegant Pia Lindström) and the copious visual material provided by Ingrid herself, this is a fascinating biographical documentary...one of several to appear in 2015 and certainly one of the richest in terms of materials. Director Stig Björkman and his editor Dominika Daubenbüchel succeed in humanizing this icon with a remarkably cohesive narrative.

  • Hitchcock/Truffaut

    Hitchcock/Truffaut 2015

    ★★★★★ Watched 05 Nov, 2015

    You want to learn what the real auteurs consider the crux of successful film making? Watch this documentary and understand what this film illustrates with film clips and interviews. Marvel at the almost effortless genius of Hitchcock to tell a story visually; and appreciate the ability of Truffaut (incidentally my favorite film maker himself) to learn from the master and with his critic/filmmaker sensibility transmit that understanding to the viewer (and, of course, to the readers of his seminal illustrated book of Hitch interviews that is the basis of this film.)

    Certainly the fine modern auteurs interviewed in this film get it. Here's a list: David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, Olivier Assayas, Wes Anderson, Peter Bogdanovich, Richard Linklater, Kyoshi Kurosawa, Arnaud Desplechin, Paul Shrader, James Gray. If you are a cineaste that should be a show-stopping group of superior film makers in itself. And each brings his own point of view as to how Hitchcock influenced the art of film more than just about any other director, even as his contemporary reputation suffered from how easy he made it look.

    This is more than a tribute to Hitchcock. It's an entertaining, painless, full credit course in the theory of film itself. Bravo, Kent Jones for pulling it together!

  • The Diplomat

    The Diplomat 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 05 Nov, 2015

    This is a straightforward documentary covering the life and career of super-diplomat (but never quite Secretary of State) Richard Holbrooke. It is made from the point of view of his son, David, who interviews many important contemporaries including his father's one-time boss Hilary Clinton (and her husband), and several friends and even some of his enemies. Holbrooke at age 22 served as a young diplomat/advisor in Viet Nam from the early days, reached the peak of his effectiveness in mediating the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo, and was charged with the maybe impossible task of dealing diplomatically with the Afghani and Pakistani governments up to the time of his untimely aortic aneurysm in 2010. In the light of history (at least from the material disclosed in this fascinating and informative film), he has been proven more right than just about anybody about the disastrous U.S. use of military force in these conflicts over the processes of diplomacy.

  • The Leisure Class

    The Leisure Class 2015

    ★★½ Watched 04 Nov, 2015

    Let's get rid of the elephant in the room right at the start: this film is the result of the fourth season of the "Project Greenlight" reality series on HBO. In that series, director Jason Mann won a $3 million contract to make a feature film while the film making process was being shot and edited into a documentary. What ensued was the portrait of a novice director consumed by the irrelevant minutia of his "artistic vision" (e.g. expensively shooting on film instead of digital) in constant battle with his producer and the network financing his film. As much as I wanted to applaud Mann for his integrity, his intransigence and stubbornness were a turn off. That the final film was a mediocre drawing room farce with a script that suffered from characters whose motivations simply lacked credibility is a perfect example of Schadenfreude. I wanted Mann to fail, and he did, epically.

    However, for all that, I have to admire the actors and the look of the film. Mann's "artistic vision" did achieve a modicum of success on the surface. And Ed Weeks and Tom Bell as the bickering brothers had real comic chemistry. I actually enjoyed watching the film despite its obvious flaws. But I have to feel that Jason Mann committed career suicide making it under the scrutiny of the documentary camera.

  • Tab Hunter Confidential

    Tab Hunter Confidential 2015

    ★★★★★ Watched 01 Nov, 2015 1

    Of course, I'm old enough to remember the Tab Hunter era, the supernally handsome (although not particularly my type) no-talent actor/singer dreamboat and movie star. I first encountered him in Battle Cry when it was playing a 2nd run double bill with one of my all-time favorite films, East of Eden; and the unfavorable comparison of Hunter to James Dean was telling. I ignored most of the rest of his career...and when I was old enough that it made an impact, I noticed with some interest when he was "outed" in the scandal mags and whispered about as gay.

    Now in his mid-80s, Hunter seems to be comfortable telling with no holds barred the entire story of his life and career: his love affairs, his relationships, the things this man kept so private until recently. Hunter, still handsome and as charismatic as ever, candidly narrates the film on camera. Director Jeffrey Schwartz and producer Alan Glaser (Hunter's long-time life partner) have collected a literal treasure trove of clips, memorabilia and interviews, and cleverly presented them on film with excellent graphics and brilliant editing. Make no mistake, this is an enormously entertaining documentary; but it is also an almost unprecedented history of the cost of the Hollywood closet told by one of the few participating survivors of the studio era. As such it is also an important film, disclosing first hand the hidden secrets of mid-20th century Hollywood, and incidentally disclosing that the real Tab Hunter is a nice, personable, shy guy who just happened to be good looking and a gay icon despite himself.

  • Beasts of No Nation

    Beasts of No Nation 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 01 Nov, 2015

    The familiar, yet still shocking, story of young boys being impressed into fighting for rebel forces in West Africa. Agu (an emotionally passive, yet facially expressive performance by young Abraham Attah) watches his father and older brother killed when his village is attacked and sacked by rebel forces under the leadership of the Commandant, played with a combination of world weariness and casual cruelty by Idris Elba. What ensues is a disturbing, even devastating account of violent conflict and inhumanity in the service of revolution. Director Fukunaga shows a talent for eliciting fine performances from amateur actors plus sure handed control over the visuals of war and degradation (including sex and war crimes and child molestation.) This is powerful material, almost too much for an audience to bear.

  • The Wolfpack

    The Wolfpack 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 31 Oct, 2015

    This is a truly weird, sui generis documentary about a family of seven home schooled children who were mostly kept isolated from the physical world in their New York City apartment. The kids were understandably media obsessed, living vicariously their favorite movie roles and recording them on video. The kids (especially the 5 boys, since the two girls are hardly ever seen) are intelligent, and eventually ready to flee the coop. But the film leaves several important questions unanswered...for instance where did the money come from for this isolated life style, since nobody seems to work, especially the Peruvian immigrant father? Nevertheless, thanks to the creative spark of the children this is one of the most entertaining documentaries of the year.

  • Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom

    Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom 2015

    ★★★★½ Watched 30 Oct, 2015 1

    Lately, there has been a whole spate of documentary films about contemporary people's revolutions: in Egypt, Libya, Yemen...and now Kiev, Ukraine. This film stands out for its amazingly brave cinematography which takes the viewer right into the midst of the action when millions gathered for a 90+ day protest in Maidan (Independence) Square and environs in the winter of 2013-14. The coverage is impressive, the editing and choice of interviewees excellent. What results is a thrilling documentary film with a dramatic build that is as effective as a fiction film...a tribute to the writing and assemblage of the material.

  • We Weren't Just Bicycle Thieves: Neorealism

    We Weren’t Just Bicycle Thieves: Neorealism 2013

    ★★½ Watched 30 Oct, 2015

    The Italian neorealism movement which peaked in the late 1940s and petered out in the mid-1950s had as huge an impact on world cinema as the French New Wave a decade later. This documentary features a discussion of the movement by the late writer/director Carlo Lizzani, who was around at the time. Lizzani narrates from his living room and illustrates his points with generous clips from masterpieces such as Bicycle Thief, Shoeshine, Paisan, Ossessione, Open City etc. He also interviews elderly Italian filmmakers who are still around (the Taviani Brothers, Bertolucci, writer Umberto Eco and Martin Scorsese) to add their insights. But Lizzani's folksy demeanor (his pet dog plays a major role in humanizing his spiel), and a truly hokey script and presentation detract from the message. I'm giving this film a mediocre rating based just on the film clips. Otherwise, this boring, self-congratulatory, faux-intellectual piece of film study nonsense is a big fail.

  • Sweet Micky for President

    Sweet Micky for President 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 29 Oct, 2015

    Michel Martelli (as Sweet Micky) was a Haitian singer who made his reputation by being naughty on stage. However after the disastrous earthquake in 2010 which just about leveled the capitol Port au Prince, with the help of his close friend, Brooklyn born Fugee performer Pras, Martelli ran for President of Haiti on a platform of speedy recovery and the end of the corruption of past administrations. This documentary tells the at times stirring account of that campaign. It also features a soundtrack of some extraordinary songs which weren't familiar to me. In fact this entire story (including the generous participation of Sean Penn in the recovery effort after the earthquake), had escaped my notice. Thanks to the cooperation of Pras, the film makers had great access to the centers of the political process right from the start of Martelli's run for the Presidency. This is one of those documentaries that are both entertaining and enlightening.

  • Son of Saul

    Son of Saul 2015

    ★★★★½ Watched 28 Oct, 2015

    A sonderkommando named Saul is working in the efficient German killing machine of Auschwitz: prepping the victims for their death shower, gassing them and reclaiming valuables, loading the bodies into the furnaces and disposing of the mounds of ashes into the river. All at a crazy pace which drives everybody to the point of insanity, which explains why Saul becomes obsessed with religiously burying a boy who almost survived the Zyklon B shower...a beatific child that may have been his son, or more likely that he metaphorically adopts as his son. That is the set-up for a powerful, claustrophobically shot (all close-up tracking shots amid frantic action) drama which is almost too powerful to perceive. Think the Dardenne Brothers (and their patented camera technique of shooting their actors rushing about in close-up from behind) making a Dante-esque, absurdist, gut-wrenching vision of hell. The film is almost as difficult to watch (and comprehend) as the experience must have been for the minions working as cogs in the death machine itself. However, its outdated, but hyper-realistic 4X3 format, the dreadful soundscape, and the amazingly skillful close-up steady-cam tracking shots, bring the chaos and evil of Auschwitz to the screen with eerie affect and raise the bar for Holocaust horror films to a new level.

  • Heart of a Dog

    Heart of a Dog 2015

    ★★★★½ Watched 26 Oct, 2015

    Laurie Anderson is an avant garde performance artist. In this documentary she narrates, illustrates visually and composes the music to various vignettes from her life experiences. The stories are fascinating; but the techniques Anderson uses often seem pretentious: gauzy, impressionistic visuals and a droning narrative style that is more free-style poetry than prose. Not that this is a bad thing when the themes are so intellectually stimulating. She even manages to tell fascinating stories from a dog's point of view, no mean achievement. But what raises the level of this film is Anderson's honest appraisal of her own life's history which illustrates as few films ever have the famous Kierkegaard aphorism that she quotes: "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." The film aptly ends with a song from her recently deceased husband, Lou Reed, "Turning Time Around." Finally, the film becomes an exalted work of fine art.

  • Suffragette

    Suffragette 2015

    ★★½ Watched 25 Oct, 2015

    Bleak view of pre-WWI London and a cadre of mostly lower class working women fighting for their suffrage and, incidentally, women's equal rights to raise their children alone. The film had its heart in the right place; but despite convincing performances from Carey Mulligan, Anne-Marie Duff and Helena Bonham Carter (and even a couple of men villains like my fave Ben Whishaw and Brendon Gleeson) the film felt overly earnest, emotionally manipulative and polemic. It did get the period look right, however; and Alexandre Desplat's score was effective.

  • Experimenter

    Experimenter 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 24 Oct, 2015

    Stanley Milgram was a real-life social scientist whose main claim to fame was an experiment in the 1960s while he was a non-tenured professor at Yale. The experiment showed (and has since been replicated to show) that a cross-section of Americans will obediently harm others despite their conscience and presumed empathy, if pressured to do so. In other words, at least two-thirds of Americans would act no better than the German people under the Nazis. In this intriguing biopic, Peter Sarsgaard plays Milgram with just the right amount of smarts and rationality, breaking the fourth wall with utter conviction to explain his experiment and its implications to the audience. This is a filmic technique which rarely works; but director Almereyda succeeds in unifying the film's thematic intentions by purposefully bringing elements of film artifice, such as obviously poor rear projections, into play. This is intellectually stimulating film making; but its message is hardly one likely to make for a successful popular film.

  • The Touch Of An Angel

    The Touch Of An Angel 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 20 Oct, 2015

    Add this documentary to the top flight of personal reminiscences of the Holocaust. In this late 1930s, Henryk Schöenker was a young Jewish boy living in Oswiecim Poland (sometimes referred to as Auschwitz.) His father was an activist; and the family survived through much hardship with some help from gentile Poles (especially one old man that the young Henryk was convinced was an angel). This film features the real Schöenker as a deaf old man narrating the story of his wartime experiences on camera in Polish while actors re-create the events with startling verisimilitude worthy of a fine art film. Thus the film operates in the thin margin between documentary and story film...but fulfills both roles with excellence.

  • Tap World

    Tap World 2015

    ★★½ Watched 20 Oct, 2015

    According to this documentary, rhythmic tap dancing is enjoying a world-wide resurgence. The film travels to such far flung places as Taipei, Tokyo, Sao Paolo and New York City (among many others) to interview tap enthusiasts and professionals and show them strutting their stuff. It's all entertaining for a while...but rather one-note and trivial for its overlong 72 minutes. Just a note: back in the 1940s as a child I joined the then famous Hollywood troupe, the Meglin Kiddies, to learn tap dancing as a way to express my artistic urges. But being a klutz, even back then, I rapidly went on to other enthusiasms.

  • Peace Officer

    Peace Officer 2015

    ★★★ Watched 19 Oct, 2015

    This documentary tells stories of police abuses, especially the military equipped SWAT team over-reactions leading to unnecessary fatalities. The film is anecdotal and personal (the main source is a former Utah soldier and sheriff whose son-in-law was illegally killed by SWAT action.) In pointing out the problem, this is an important film. However, the footage is occasionally ambiguous and poorly edited, so that the film seems at times to be unbalanced against the police.

  • Room

    Room 2015

    ★★★★½ Watched 18 Oct, 2015

    A young girl had been kidnapped 7 years prior to this film, and held captive in a small room in a storage garage where she had a son who, at the start of the film, is celebrating his 5th birthday. That is the set-up for this emotionally charged, beautifully realized film. What distinguishes this film is that it is patently not about the crime (the kidnapper is only obliquely referenced.) Rather it is a psychologically revealing story of the survival and pluck of the victims. Brie Larson adds to her acting creds with a superb performance as the mother; and child actor Jacob Tremblay is flawlessly naturalistic as the child. I was blown away by the film and its emotional roller coaster of a script.

  • Bridge of Spies

    Bridge of Spies 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 17 Oct, 2015

    The true life stories of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel and American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers were well known to me from the massive press coverage at the time. However, the inside story still has the power to surprise. This film is a rather retro version of Cold War history. Despite that, it still seems relevant to today, mostly because of its immaculate production design recreating 1960 Berlin and the construction of the Wall, combined with Spielberg's return to form as the complete director, and fine casting (Mark Rylance was especially notable giving humanity and even humor to the character of Abel.)

  • One Cut, One Life

    One Cut, One Life 2014

    ★★★½ Watched 16 Oct, 2015

    Edward Pincus was a documentary filmmaker who in the mid-1960s pioneered a kind of cinema verité filmed diary. Diagnosed with a fatal blood disease in 2011, he teamed up with former collaborator and muse Lucia Small to record the last couple of years of his struggle with his disease. What resulted is an intensely personal document about life and death and film making. Pincus lived with his wife on a flower farm in a lovely Vermont setting...and the film has moments of sheer beauty and life affirmation that are thrilling. However, at times the editorial processes that Ms. Small (who is no stranger to death of close friends) utilizes to unify the film are unnecessarily convoluted. Still, one has to admire both film makers for their dedication to telling such a difficult and personal account.

  • Of Men and War

    Of Men and War 2014

    ★★★ Watched 16 Oct, 2015

    The Pathway Home in Yountville, CA is a live-in facility designed to help Iraqi and Afghani war veterans cope with PTSD. This documentary (apparently edited down to a leaner 100 minutes from its original version) tells several stories of men and their families who are taking part in the group therapy which the facility offers. Some of the stories are compelling, others not so much. In any case, the verité editing style seemed aimless, jumping around from story to story without any perceived character arcs. For all the occasionally gut wrenching power of these veteran's stories, I found my attention flagging at times.

  • In Jackson Heights

    In Jackson Heights 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 13 Oct, 2015

    Frederick Wiseman is the epitome of the cinema verité documentarian. His usually lengthy docs examine, seemingly without editorializing or narration or even an apparent point of view, various aspects of society. Here he tells several stories of the multicultural neighborhood enclave of Queens, NY...namely Jackson Heights. The film is comprised of several lengthy set-pieces showing people engaged in activities such as political action committees, various forms of worship, educating immigrants, celebrations of holidays and gay Pride. Certain groups are emphasized: the latino communities (much of the film is subtitled Spanish), the gay and transgendered activists, the mostly elderly Jewish and mostly young Muslim cohorts. Surrounding these long meeting sequences are literally hundreds of well composed, interesting establishing shots of street scenes and activities around the neighborhood.

    The film is 3 hours long; and, in my opinion, could have used considerable editing and better sequencing to sustain interest. Several sequences ran on too long, or seemed repetitive and even boring. However, the film really worked when the discussions were interesting enough to engage full attention. That happened frequently enough to make the entire film worth watching.

  • Burnt

    Burnt 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 11 Oct, 2015

    Bradley Cooper adds to his actor's creds with another strong performance playing Adam Jones: frenetic, unlikable superchef in the vein of reality TV star Gordon Ramsay. The food wrangling is so excellent and authentic that this film instantly joins the top rank of classic foodie flicks like Babette's Feast and Big Night. OK, maybe the script and personal story arcs are as predictable as the sun rising. But all is forgiven because director John Wells got the food right, and cast his film immaculately.

  • Steve Jobs

    Steve Jobs 2015

    ★★½ Watched 10 Oct, 2015

    Steve Jobs made for a thoroughly unpleasant anti-hero of this strangely un-biopical biopic. Aaron Sorkin's script was rather clever, distilling the action to three crucial product unveilings (Macintosh, Next Computer, and iMac) and forcing the ongoing dramas in Jobs' life, especially his strained relationship with his daughter and her mother, to fit into this tidy 3-act schema. Director Danny Boyle's visual inspiration seemed to be limited here to shooting the three acts in varied formats (16mm, 35mm and digital respectively.) The actors, especially Michael Fassbender who is in just about every scene playing Jobs without benefit of looking much like him, struggled gamely with Sorkin's patented rapid-fire, smart-as-a-whip dialogue. In plain words, I just didn't like this film in much the same way I don't like Steve Jobs and his user patronizing company's products. Your mileage may vary.

  • Meadowland

    Meadowland 2015

    ★★★ Watched 10 Oct, 2015

    Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson play a married couple whose young son was kidnapped during a refreshment stop at a gas station. The film picks up one year later, when the effects of losing their missing son have caused psychological traumas on each parent akin to PTSD, and fractures in their marriage. The film features superb acting and a taut script which rang true to life. But it also was a very difficult, even painful film to watch...an artistic success, but a resolutely uncommercial film.

  • The Walk

    The Walk 2015

    ★★★★½ Watched 10 Oct, 2015

    Of course I had watched the documentary Man on Wire, and incidentally voted for it to win the documentary Oscar that year. So I was unsure how a drama based on Philippe Petit's historic (and frankly in the light of history sentimental) 140 ft. wire walk between the two rooftops of the still under construction World Trade Center in 1974 could add anything to that 2008 film. I shouldn't have discounted Robert Zemeckis's long-standing ability to amaze while advancing the art of special effects film making. This is one of the few films where 3D is vital to the effectiveness of the story. But Zemeckis also added flawless sound and music, and seamless green-screen compositing, raising the bar for what is possible to achieve on a big screen. But I can't minimize the contribution of actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose physical dexterity in the wire walking scenes combined gymnastic body control with the moves of a ballet dancer. And his French accent was pretty well spot on, too. The film's only flaw was a script which featured the creaky plot device of constantly interrupting the action with on-screen narration featuring Petit perched upon the torch of the Statue of Liberty with the Twin Towers shimmering in the background. But even those scenes eventually paid off with some misty eyes by the end of the film. One can only hope that word-of-mouth (like this glowing review) will encourage people to go watch this film on the big screen and enjoy the experience despite their reservations.

  • Frame by Frame

    Frame by Frame 2015

    ★★★ Watched 07 Oct, 2015

    This documentary tells the stories of four native photo journalists in Afghanistan, a country where the Taliban has forbidden photography in the past, and likely will again in the future. The environment is especially toxic for the one woman photographer, who specializes in covering the lives of Afghani women, a particularly dangerous task in a country that hides its women away underneath chadors. A second photographer relives the bombing incident that won him a Pulitzer for a photo of a young woman grieving among the carnage. These are brave, skilled subjects to follow around as they ply their profession...the generous samples of their photographs are amazing, and each has an interesting story to tell. However the intercutting of the four stories seemed somewhat haphazard...just as one of the stories started to rivet the attention, the film cuts away to another story entirely. The effect is that the sum is less than the parts, the film lacked focus despite the importance of its message.

  • Finders Keepers

    Finders Keepers 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 04 Oct, 2015

    This documentary occupies a narrow niche: so implausible that it might just as well have been a faked "mockumentary." It all takes place in North Carolina hillbilly country starting in 2007, when an embalmed foot nestled inside a smoker grill was discovered in an abandoned storage garage that had been auctioned off to the highest bidder. What ensued was a nationwide media frenzy involving the originator of the amputated foot and the entrepreneur who "bought" the foot and proceeded to attempt to monetize his discovery. The film is written and edited as a straightforward, serious historical account, utilizing news footage and interviews with the principals and their families. However, the story is so "truth is stranger than fiction" absurd, that it is often laugh-out-loud funny. This is documentary film making as situation comedy combined with low-life reality television. It is entertaining; but also somewhat cruel in the way it presents its cooperative subjects as stereotypes.

  • The Martian

    The Martian 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 03 Oct, 2015 4

    Like last year's amazing 3D SiFi special effects extravaganza, Gravity, this film is an unparalleled thrill watch, despite some minor quibbles about the physics (for instance, the speed of light time-lapse between Mars and Earth conveniently got shortened in the editing.) I was so enthralled by the story that I just turned off my critical faculties. Maybe a second viewing is necessary to really appreciate the superb technical achievements of this film at all levels...direction, acting, special effects, music, screen play. Sometimes just the experience of a heightened sense of wonder is enough.

  • I Smile Back

    I Smile Back 2015

    ★★½ Watched 03 Oct, 2015

    Sarah Silverman adds to her dramatic actress creds with a fine performance as Laney, housewife, mother, addict, general all-around screw-up, a story that could be re-titled "Diary of a Mad Housewife Under the Influence." Only in this case, the woman is so disturbed and destructive to herself, husband (a beautifully modulated performance by Josh Charles) and two young children, that what little sympathy I had for her quickly dissipated. This is the kind of film where I can respect the film making while hating the experience of sitting in the theater and being forced to watch the film (since I've made a pact with myself to never walk out on a movie.)

  • Coming Home

    Coming Home 2015

    ★★★★½ Watched 02 Oct, 2015

    Angel Cordero was a 25 year old family man of Puerto Rican heritage living in Brooklyn when he was falsely convicted of attempted murder in yet another case of justice perverted. He served about 13 years in a New York State prison; and even though the actual perp came forward and admitted his guilt, the system has been unable to rectify its error. Cordero was released in 2012; however, he remains under 5 years probation with restrictions.

    This intimate, affecting, often heartbreaking documentary starts to follow Cordero upon his release to his new life. Every scene filmed of him and his family indicates that this was a good man who refused to become embittered or turned into a monster by incarceration. However, he did lose the affection of his teenage daughter, Sarah, now 16 and living with her mother and step-father in Florida. Cordero's pain of loss, and his attempts to rekindle the broken relationship with his daughter become the focus of the film.

    This is yet another documentary film about the ripple effects when the justice system most likely gets it wrong. The film makers were fortunate in finding such a sympathetic victim of the system, and even more fortunate with the dramatic and humanistic story of father and daughter which ensued. Much credit is due to the fine direction, assured cinematography and editing.

  • Being Evel

    Being Evel 2015

    ★★½ Watched 30 Sep, 2015

    This is a straightforward biographical documentary about Robert "Evel" Knievel, the daredevil cyclist that became a mid-20th century media phenomenon before crashing and burning (figuratively...and a little literally, too.) The film is never boring, since Knievel was an interesting guy, a genius at self-publicizing and monetizing his crazy stunts...although a real heel in his personal life who lost all by the end. This is a nicely professional job of documentary film making, just not a very inspiring film.

  • Mississippi Grind

    Mississippi Grind 2015

    ★★★ Watched 27 Sep, 2015

    This road trip flick follows two degenerate gamblers down the Mississippi River, doing their thing in riverboat casinos, dog tracks and shady poker games. It works for a while because the two actors are so fine. Kudos to Ben Mendelsohn (Australian actor who made an impact in the Netflix series "Bloodline") and Ryan Reynolds (who really could be a movie star if he chose his roles more carefully...but thank god he does push himself in these thankless indie roles.) But the script, which can't decide whether it is a ruthless character study about gambling addiction or a simple minded wish fulfillment fantasy just doesn't succeed as either.

  • Coming Home

    Coming Home 2014

    ★★★★ Watched 27 Sep, 2015

    The great Chinese director Zhang Yimou returns to the screen with a politically brave and poignant film about the long-term adverse affects of the '60s Cultural Revolution on a married couple and their young daughter. Zhang's long-time muse, Gong Li gives an Oscar caliber performance as teacher Fong, whose husband Lu (a quietly nuanced performance by Chen Daoming) served several years in a labor camp as a political prisoner. Upon Lu's return from imprisonment, he discovers that his wife no longer recognizes him...in fact she is suffering from a kind of amnesia similar to dementia when it comes to her husband. The film is sentimental without ever becoming maudlin or manipulative, mostly because the acting and direction are so assured. I had some reservations about the realism of the underlying psychology of Fong's affliction which, for me, was the only flaw in this otherwise superb film.

  • My Voice, My Life

    My Voice, My Life 2014

    ★★½ Watched 27 Sep, 2015

    This documentary tells the story of several underachieving or disabled high school students in Hong Kong who more or less found themselves by rehearsing and performing in an extra-curricular, city-wide musical. The individual stories were compelling; but the film followed a predictable arc which echoed too many other recent documentary films about students benefiting from the performance arts.

  • A Murder in the Park

    A Murder in the Park 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 26 Sep, 2015

    There is a prevalent genre of documentaries: telling stories of perverse errors made by the American justice system and calling for reversing those errors. Because these films are so relevant and consequential, they often are exemplars of the power of the medium to positively affect society.

    This film, which is about two connected examples of justice misfiring, is particularly important, since the Chicago double murder and subsequent trials had a very real-world consequence of causing Illinois to eliminate the death penalty. The film documents a case where a most-likely guilty man was released after years on death row by fraud and widespread malfeasance; while another man, who was probably innocent, was railroaded into prison. Since the actual resolutions of the cases are still pending, there is no certainty here. But using exhaustive documentation, the film makes its case for justice perverted. Perhaps the film is a tad too mired in confusing details and recantations. But the message comes out loud and clear.

  • Sicario

    Sicario 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 26 Sep, 2015

    "Sicario" is Colombian slang for a hitman hired by the drug cartels to dispose of enemies. That's the theme of this complex thriller...even if the audience is kept in the dark for most of the film. Like the TV series which it resembles in many ways, "The Bridge," this is a dark story about lawlessness in Juarez, Mexico under the sway of the Sonora drug cartel. The plot involves the FBI, the DEA, the ATF, the CIA, Homeland Security, and the Mexican Federales in an unlikely high-tech caper with an absurdly high body count. As unrealistic as the actual plot was (no spoilers from me), the acting and direction were good enough to carry the film for me. I especially loved the pulsating, low frequency music score which added so much to the tension which permeated the film. And let's face it, Emily Blunt is fast becoming a convincingly feminine, kick-ass action hero.

  • Meru

    Meru 2015

    ★★★★★ Watched 25 Sep, 2015

    Mount Meru is a Himalayan peak in India, about 21,000 ft. high. One of its spires, the "Shark's fin," is virtually unclimbable: a sheer rock face for the final 4,000 ft. This documentary tells of three men who aspired to be the first to make it to the summit. No cameramen followed the climbers; two of them were carrying the cameras. And what the cameras disclosed was a feat of insane daring that beggars belief. I won't go into spoiler details (after all, the fact that the film was made at all is a spoiler of sorts.) However, even in a movie scene which has recently seen such exciting mountain climbing films as the documentary Into Thin Air and the elaborate 3D extravaganza Everest, this one stood out for me.

    One reason was the on-camera commentary by the journalist involved in the other films, Jon Krakauer, who nicely clarified the difficulties for anybody attempting to climb Mount Meru. But the main reason I am giving this documentary my highest rating is that I was on the edge of my seat the entire time and in awe of the actual process of shooting and editing this film with no apparent special effects...live and up close. The film managed to present the most outrageous example of tenacity and indomitable spirit, and still managed to humanize the climbers: Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk as few documentaries have. The film is almost as great an achievement as their climb.

  • Listen to Me Marlon

    Listen to Me Marlon 2015

    ★★★★½ Watched 24 Sep, 2015

    Using reflective audio tapes that the elderly Brando made (and fortunately didn't destroy as he threatened to do), this fascinating documentary weaves a biographical tapestry that is a triumph of editing along with an expertly written sound-scape. Visually, the film depends on a generous amount of scenes from Brando's films, a computerized creation of his head mouthing Shakespeare quotes, and stock news footage and stills of his life as a huge celebrity. But the sum of writer/director Riley's effort to tie it all together is a unique view into the mind of this towering genius actor, whose life was ultimately a tragedy worthy of Shakespeare.

  • A LEGO Brickumentary

    A LEGO Brickumentary 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 23 Sep, 2015

    This is an entertaining documentary about the history of the Danish toy company LEGO and the cult of adult enthusiasts and nerds that have turned these patented bricks into a worldwide phenomenon, with conventions and art shows, and even a wildly successful animated movie (plus countless YouTube amateur efforts). Personally, I was never initiated as a kid into the LEGO world; and from this film I regret that. Even if the film plays like an elaborate commercial for the product, it never fails to amuse and fascinate that so much elegance and beauty can be constructed and created from such a simple concept.

  • I Am Chris Farley

    I Am Chris Farley 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 22 Sep, 2015

    Does an overweight funny-man who died at age 33 of alcohol and drug abuse deserve 1 1/2 hours devoted to his life and art? This documentary says a resounding yes! The film utilizes introspective interviews with his fellow Second City and Saturday Night Live comedians, his family and many others, along with generous examples of Farley's committed physical comedy and Letterman appearances. The result is a well edited, superbly entertaining film about this frenetic comedian, that manages to be comprehensive and cautionary without ever becoming maudlin. I only intermittently watched SNL during the Sandler-Spade-Farley era; and I don't recall admiring at the time the films he starred in, such as Tommy Boy. But even so, this documentary is a reminder of what a great comic talent he was...his gift was as excessive as his girth.

  • Pawn Sacrifice

    Pawn Sacrifice 2014

    ★★★½ Watched 20 Sep, 2015

    The trend in biopics nowadays is to devote the story to a limited, intensive view of just a portion of the real-life subject's life (see recent films about Jimi Hendrix and Brian Wilson for examples.) This film concentrates on Brooklyn raised chess genius Bobby Fischer and his world renowned title bout for chess supremacy with the Russian Boris Spassky in Iceland in 1971, which became a Cold War phenomenon. The film devotes little time and effort to the actual game of chess; but does delve deeply into Fischer's irascible personality which may have been master class gamesmanship or pure insanity (the film is rather neutral about which.)

    Tobey Maguire gives a career boosting performance as Fischer, simultaneously cool and paranoid, brilliant and psychotic; but always intriguing. I'm not sure I understood Fischer (and his peculiarities and rabid anti-Semitism) any more by the end of the film than I did at the time I followed his meteoric career in the media. But for me, this film was an entertainment well worth watching.

  • Time Out of Mind

    Time Out of Mind 2014

    ★★½ Watched 20 Sep, 2015

    Richard Gere bravely takes on the role of a homeless elderly man living on the streets (and in shelters) in present day New York City. As portrayed, George is possibly suffering early dementia or schizophrenia; but he is also making an effort to reach out to his estranged daughter (Jena Malone) whom he had apparently abandoned when she was 12 when his wife died. The film is slow and arty, with an especially interesting sound track composed of exaggerated NYC street sounds and overheard conversations. It makes no bones about the horrible day to day experiences of the urban aged and homeless street people. I've admired director Oren Moverman's film making in the past; and this film goes even further into the kind of ultra-realistic, cinema verité style than he's used before. But personally, I could not help but feel such a strong "there, but for the grace of God..." feeling of distress watching the film, that I could easily have fled the theater at any point. However, Gere's subtle and nuanced performance kept me in my seat to the bitter-sweet end.

  • These Hammers Don't Hurt Us

    These Hammers Don’t Hurt Us 2011

    ★★½ Watched 19 Sep, 2015 5

    This endless 13 minute short film is a psychedelic mash-up of elements from among other sources Mankiewicz's Cleopatra and Landis's Thriller. The incomprehensible story (maybe something about an ancient Egyptian ceremony involving the goddess Isis) is pretext for dazzling solarized, electronic visual effects. Let's face it, this avant garde type of filmmaking isn't my cuppa. But for what it is, it's pretty well done.

  • Black Mass

    Black Mass 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 19 Sep, 2015

    Johnny Depp adds to his series of transformative characterizations that of real-life Boston Irish gangster James "Whitey" Bulger. I was familiar with the general gist of Bulger's story from news accounts and the documentary film Whitey: grew up a Southie bully, served time in prison (among them Alcatraz), formed an informer "alliance" with a fellow Southie FBI agent, John Connolly (played with naive cupidity by Joel Edgerton) which allowed him to run his murderous Boston rackets with impunity.

    The film is a dark companion to other Boston crime films, such as Eastwood's Mystic River and Afflek's The Town; and like them makes their city a main character complicit in the action. With this film, director Scott Cooper vaults into the mainstream of Hollywood auteurs, handling his large cast and vast canvass well, particularly allowing Depp to explore the depths of evil of this wily gangster. One scene, in particular, where Bulger terrorizes Connolly's wife (played by a totally convincing Julianne Nicholson) stands out as a marvel of acting and editing.

    Black Mass is not a film for the squeamish. And I'm not sure that the script succeeded entirely in explaining how and why Bulger was so successful in turning the FBI into a complicit criminal enterprise. But it does offer an audience an authentic, creepy, true-life thriller that manages to get under the skin.

  • The Amina Profile

    The Amina Profile 2015

    ★★★ Watched 17 Sep, 2015

    Coinciding with the Arab Spring in 2011, a popular blog appeared called A Gay Girl in Damascus, written by an out lesbian named Amina Arraf, who described her life and imminent persecution by the Syrian secret police. She was also having an e-mail love affair with a Canadian girl named Sandra, and correspondences with many other concerned women (and men); and her plight became newsworthy as her story unfolded. But all was not what it seemed. That's the gist of this impressionistic documentary which starts out as a gauzy filmic ode to Sapphic love using out-of-focus re-enactments; and then about mid-way turns into something more interesting. That's it for spoilers from me. I'd give the first half of the film 1.5-stars and the 2nd half 4.5-stars, so on average this is a 3-star documentary.

  • The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

    The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution 2015

    ★★★ Watched 16 Sep, 2015

    This is an exhaustive and exhausting documentary about the rise and fall of the Black Panther movement in the 1960s and 1970s. Utilizing historic footage and many, many interviews, it makes the point quite clearly that J. Edgar Hoover's FBI and "cointelpro" (counterintelligence program) was government over-reach of the worst sort.

  • The Transporter Refueled

    The Transporter Refueled 2015

    ★★★ Watched 14 Sep, 2015

    Sure, it's just another silly chase flick with a cookie-cutter predictable revenge plot line. I sort of liked the first two Transporter films in the mid-aughts for their audacious pluck and Luc Bresson's crazy-inspired scripts. But this attempt at a re-boot of the franchise would have been just another same-old same-old, except that British actor Ed Skrein has sufficient charisma to fend off any resistance to replacing the irreplaceable Jason Statham. Sort of like how some of the later James Bonds managed to hold a candle to Sean Connery. Plus, lets face it, the winding streets of the Côte d'Azure make a beautiful backdrop for ridiculously destructive car chases.

  • Everest

    Everest 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 13 Sep, 2015

    This based-on-fact thriller tells the well annotated story of the groups who attempted to climb to the summit of Mt. Everest on May 10-11, 1996. Several books and documentaries (including the surviving journalist Jon Krakauer's account: Into Thin Air) with conflicting versions were distilled in this script to try to dramatize the most likely truthful version of what happened that day. It isn't a spoiler to say that the mountain won.

    Filmmaker Kormákur, and especially cinematographer Salvatore Totino have made a spectacularly visual 3D survival epic of nature at its most raw extreme. Many in the large cast must have suffered to earn their salaries. The special visual and sound effects are so seamless that the viewer is right there suffering along with the climbers. Like most disaster films, the script followed a familiar arc; but at least most of the individual stories within the film were well written and acted. As harrowing as the film experience was, it still was a story of man versus nature in the extreme, heroic sacrifice, and a cascade of tragic errors that needed to be told and watched.

  • The Intern

    The Intern 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 12 Sep, 2015

    Robert de Niro has grayed magnificently. Anne Hathaway has successfully transitioned into her 30's. And Nancy Meyers continues to create adult romantic comedies that pique the intellect as well as being socially relevant as few film are these days.

    Here de Niro plays Ben, a 70-year old retired widower chafing to find relevance after a life devoted to a good marriage and a successful middle-management career has ended. One day he reads a bulletin board circular that a newly successful internet start-up shopping site, locally based in Brooklyn, is hiring elderly interns as a sort of outreach experiment; and he applies for the job. Hathaway plays Jules, the obsessive, Zuckerberg-ish entrepreneur founder of her company, struggling to stay hands-on as her company grows exponentially while also juggling a family life of house-husband and young daughter. Despite misgivings, Jules takes Ben on as her intern assistant...and she gradually discovers that the old dog has some new tricks to impart.

    De Niro and Hathaway have real chemistry together as (huzzah!) non-romantic, May-November friends and colleagues. The clever script is constantly defying expectations as it develops. And the depiction of the operation of the youthful internet start-up is totally convincing. I had a lot of fun watching this absorbing film, even shed a few honest tears.

  • Beltracchi - The Art of the Forgery

    Beltracchi – The Art of the Forgery 2014

    ★★½ Watched 11 Sep, 2015

    This documentary tells the stranger-than-fiction story of Wolfgang Beltracchi, who along with his wife pulled off a series of successful forged artwork sales of fakes by Fauvist and post-Impressionist painters, until his con was eventually discovered. The film shows the artist at work painting while he is serving a work-release prison sentence for his crimes. Beltracchi himself is a likable con-man type; and there is a certain educational appreciation to be gleaned watching his technique as he "pretend" paints and prepares his forgeries for the film. But the film making style is plodding and rambling when it is focused on Beltracchi (except for an occasional series of fast cut photo montages.) However, the film did spark my interest with scenes illustrating the moneyed world of art auctions and obsessive art collectors. What became apparent is that Beltracchi is a skilled artist in his own right who, despite his notoriety as an art forger, could have a reasonably successful career under his own name.

  • We Are Your Friends

    We Are Your Friends 2015

    ★★½ Watched 09 Sep, 2015

    The "Valley Girl" stereotype has been a common subject in films for several years. But the concurrent "Valley Boy" story is a rarer breed. This film is the story of a posse of four male friends, arrestedly developed 20-somethings living and variously conning their way through life in present day San Fernando Valley (L.A.'s urban somewhat déclassé northern suburb.)

    One of their number, Cole, wants to break out of the pack to become a talented and famed rave DJ, like his wealthy and successful idol and mentor, James. Zac Efron played young Cole with endearing puppy dog earnestness (he sure is cute; but I suspect he has limits as a serious actor in the future...time will tell.) Wes Bentley finally has been given another meaty role as James: alcoholic, probably creatively passed-it DJ...and he ran with it. The two characters have an interesting post-modern, faintly homoerotic dynamic together. The other three members of the Valley boy posse, played by Jonny Weston, Shiloh Fernandez and Alex Shaffer, were underdeveloped as characters, but still interesting.

    The story was mostly a series of clichés strung together. The rave DJ plot reminded me of the recent, similar French film from Mia Hanson-Love, Eden, only not nearly as probing. Still, the electronic rave music in We Are Your Friends was well thought out; and the final triumphant festival mix of real-life sound effects with a rapturous beat was infectious and a good pay-off for what didn't quite work earlier in the film.

  • American Ultra

    American Ultra 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 09 Sep, 2015

    I don't know why this film has been so critically dumped on. Sure, the plot is unlikely to the point of ridiculous. But, with Max Landis' clever script and amusing dialog, I was able to accept the paranoid world of an out-of-control CIA acting illegally on U.S. soil (to say nothing of creating sleeper-cell super-soldiers out of hick nebbishes like Jesse Eisenberg's brilliantly conceived, simple-minded convenience store clerk.) Also, the film gave Topher Grace an opportunity to play another conniving bad guy, always a pleasure. Add solid performances by Connie Britton and Kristen Stewart and convincingly madcap direction by Nourizedeh, and the result is one of most diverting entertainments of the year so far.

  • Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church

    Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 07 Sep, 2015

    The Atlanta Pop festival of July 4th weekend, 1970, was a hugely attended festival rivaling Woodstock. Jimi Hendrix, major star by then and only a couple of months from his untimely death, was the headliner who took the stage around midnight of the 4th and gave an electrifying concert with fireworks in the background sky.

    After the concert, which was filmed in its entirety, unaccountably the undeveloped film resided in a barn for over 40 years, until someone finally had the bright idea that this historic footage deserved to be seen. This documentary is about one-quarter interviews with those still alive who recall the event, and three-quarters a close-up filming of Hendrix's performance, featuring most of his hits (including a spine-tingling reprise of his signature guitar version of The Star Spangled Banner.) Hendrix to this day was an unsurpassed master of noodling riffs on the electric guitar. His style of playing was so personal and distinctive that it probably can never be matched or imitated. For this performance he was at the top of his game.

    If the interview sections of this film are merely informative and rather prosaically edited, that can't be said of the performance footage, which are technically rudimentary (few cameras, almost no coverage of the other two members of Hendrix's band), but nevertheless capture entirely the essence of what made this man such a skilled and scintillating entertainer.

  • 99 Homes

    99 Homes 2014

    ★★★½ Watched 02 Sep, 2015

    This is a cautionary tale about greed and profiteering during the 2009 extended economic crisis and home value freefall, especially in the Orlando, Florida suburbs. Michael Shannon plays a pragmatic real estate agent who is getting rich from scams involving homeowner evictions. And Andrew Garfield gets to play to (and subvert) his inherent likability as a one-time victim turned predator employee of the ruthless Shannon. As a lesson in recent history, this story is interesting, even important. The narrative develops realistically...and for the first time I think I started to understand the scope of Bush's mini-Depression and the housing crisis that precipitated it. However, in the third act the script faltered psychologically in its zeal to moralize. At least it did for me. If the ending seemed organic with the rest of the film, I would have rated the entire film higher. But other than that there's much to admire about the acting and direction.

  • Show Me a Hero

    Show Me a Hero 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 01 Sep, 2015

    This based-on-a-true-story HBO miniseries could be a season of The Wire set in late 1980's Yonkers, NY instead of Baltimore. Of course, much of that is due to the unique sensibility of creator and co-writer of both series, David Simon. But credit also goes to director Paul Haggis for his skillful and artful juggling act, handling several parallel stories and a large cast of well delineated characters (better done here than in his Oscar winning Crash.)

    The title comes from F. Scott Fitzgerald: "Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy." The tragic hero here is youthful politician Nick Wasicsko, played with slow burning intensity by Oscar Isaac, who as Yonkers councilman and mayor must contend with a controversial court order for the city to provide townhouse style public housing for qualified low-income blacks and Latinos, despite heavy opposition by whites in that city. Just as with The Wire, the slow pacing and utter verisimilitude of the events portrayed defy the normal requirements of popularized historical drama. I'll admit that occasionally I found both series to be a bit of a slog; but in the end, the accumulation of realistic details and the strong point of view of the creators won the day. This series is definitely worth a careful and attentive viewing.

  • The Diary of a Teenage Girl

    The Diary of a Teenage Girl 2015

    ★★★ Watched 30 Aug, 2015

    I have no doubt that this mixed media live action/animation film, told from the point of view of 15 year old Minnie (an amazing performance by English actress, 21 year old Bel Powley), presents a realistic depiction of an actual American teenage girl's life and thoughts. Sure, it takes place in permissive San Francisco in 1976. That helps to explain how her being "in love with" and sexually active with her mother's 35 year old boyfriend (yikes! Alexander Skarsgard looking hotter than ever) can occur without legal ramifications. However, watching this film I couldn't help but feel really uncomfortable thinking about the felonies being committed so non-judgmentally. I suppose that is the point of this revealing and uncompromisingly R-rated film (I figure it just barely escaped an NC-17 rating.) Watch it for the performances, however. Powley and Skarsgard, of course; but let's not forget the brilliant non-comic performance by Kristen Wiig as mom, a divorcée somewhat lost in the aftermath of the hippies and the 1960's. The film is based on a mixed media novel (drawings, graphics and diary entiries) which wouldn't be my cuppa. In fact, this film isn't at all my cuppa...but objectively I could easily rate it a full star higher if I weren't accounting for how squicked I was watching it.

  • Z for Zachariah

    Z for Zachariah 2015

    ★★½ Watched 29 Aug, 2015

    This is an intense relationship drama about a young woman and two disparate men who somehow survived the nuclear apocalypse and came together in a secluded Appalachian valley (with gorgeously photographed New Zealand serving as the stand-in location.) But this isn't really a science fiction future dystopian story...rather a cautionary tale of an isolated and unstable three-way relationship. The actors were each convincing in their way (especially Margot Robbie's as the sexually budding, if naive and sincerely devout farm girl, Ann.) But the film never quite delved with any depth into the psychology of these characters, how racial issues and pressures of metaphorically inhabiting the Garden of Eden affected the survivors. Frankly, the disappointingly spare script left too much of the story unresolved at the conclusion.

  • Amy

    Amy 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 29 Aug, 2015

    This documentary is roughly a chronological examination of the life and career of English jazz and soul singer Amy Winehouse. It is no spoiler to disclose that the troubled diva died of bulimia and drug and alcohol abuse at age 27 (like other modern musical legends such as Janice, Jimi, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain et al.) And this film, with many examples of contemporary home movies and wildly varying performance pieces makes the point that Amy definitely belonged in that company.

    I admit that I wasn't a fan of her jazzy, stylized singing and tortured love lyrics. Watching this film is rather like picking at a scab: annoying and intensely riveting, but purging at the same time. Amy was a born singer; but not a born celebrity. The film was well written and edited to show how the flower of her gift wilted under the pressures of fame and notoriety, for which she was self-admittedly unprepared. Watching this film, one doesn't have to be a fan of hers to appreciate her impact and relate to her messy, dysfunctional life.

  • Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll

    Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll 2014

    ★★★½ Watched 27 Aug, 2015

    This documentary presents a recent history (from the 1950s to the present) of Cambodia by examining the indigenous pop music scene throughout that period. The film tells the story of several unfamiliar to the outside world singing stars and rock bands; and how they thrived until the 1975 Khmer Rouge takeover when the forced relocations and "killing fields" decimated their numbers. Utilizing vintage performance films, interviews and television news coverage, this entertaining film is a tribute to the surprisingly excellent and vital Cambodian music industry. This is light, fun entertainment with tragic political undertones passionately presented by ardent fans and a filmmaker who obviously cared for his subjects. Significantly, the U.S. and the Nixon/Kissinger "secret war" in the 1970s gets its share of the blame for the Cambodian tragedy of the Pol Pot era. Pop music plus realpolitiks...definitely worth watching.

  • Cartel Land

    Cartel Land 2015

    ★★★ Watched 26 Aug, 2015

    This documentary intercuts the stories of two separate vigilante groups attempting to fight the rampant, killer meth cartels in Mexico. The first, and more interesting account, shows the activities of the "Autodefensas," in central Mexico's Michoacan state as the group and its charismatic leader Dr. Jose Mirales go head to head with the Knights Templar cartel. The second account tells of Tim Foley and his small Amercian paramilitary group patrolling the Arizona-Mexican border area called "Cocaine Valley," trying to battle the cartel's influence and halt the narco incursions into the U.S.

    The film plays like an extended version of FOX's reality tv show "Cops," shot on the fly by the brave (and sometimes foolhardy) director Matthew Heineman. There's definitely a point of view here: that governments are corrupt and more likely to side with the cartels than the vigilantes. However, for all the visceral excitement generated by the realities of the live shoots, the film somehow seemed skewed towards dramatic effect rather than explicating the reality of events.

  • The Maze Runner

    The Maze Runner 2014

    ★★★ Watched 25 Aug, 2015

    Part "Lord of the Flies," part male-driven "Divergent," part young-skewing "Wayward Pines," part enigmatic video game...this sci fi dystopian thriller seemed derivative at first. But its propulsive energy and an interesting, attractive cast sustained my interest, despite the unlikely premise. Since this script only begins to solve the mystery of what the story is about, I'm looking forward to the sequel.

  • Ricki and the Flash

    Ricki and the Flash 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 23 Aug, 2015

    I'd go to a Meryl Streep rock concert. Even though I haven't been to a rock concert since the 1970s. I'd even go to hear her band, The Flash, with lead guitar Rick Springfield who can't really act but plays some mean licks! Actually, if this were a documentary, I could just bop on down to the San Fernando Valley bar/lounge they're performing at. I'd love that.

    Anyway, this is a Diablo Cody script...which ought to say it all: sassy, maladjusted strong women who prevail despite being saddled with weak men. But it is also a typically quirky-character-centered Jonathan Demme film which gives Meryl Streep and her older daughter Mamie a chance to play mother and daughter with rare conviction. If the rest of the characters (including Kevin Kline as Meryl's ex-) were underwritten, and the strife-filled family reunion plot was totally predictable, at least we got yet another amazing performance from La Streep, defying her age and singing and playing live a series of classic rock cover songs that smoked. That was enough for me.

  • Learning to Drive

    Learning to Drive 2014

    ★★★★ Watched 22 Aug, 2015

    Based on a decade-old New Yorker magazine essay, this is an utterly charming film about a fifty-something divorcee who tries to reclaim her life after the split-up with her husband. Wendy (a wonderfully nuanced performance by Patricia Clarkson) is one of those native New Yorkers who has never learned how to drive. Darwan (a touching, realistic portrayal by Ben Kingsley) is a Sikh immigrant, a former professor in his native India granted political asylum, who has been scratching out a living as a driving teacher and taxi driver. Darwin has problems of his own with his recently arranged marriage to a woman who is having trouble adjusting to her new life in America. Wendy and Darwan come together, each involved with their own personal crisis, in a series of driving lessons through the teeming streets of New York City.

    Before watching this film, I was afraid that this would just be a rehash of the themes of Driving Miss Daisy. However much credit for the uniquely truthful feeling of this film should go to the two wonderful actors who played so well off each other; and also to the brilliant camera operation by director Isabel Croixet who chose to shoot the many automobile sequences in the restricted confines of actual cars driving on location throughout the city. Croixet made one of my favorite films back in 2003, My Life Without Me; and this uncompromisingly adult film adds to my feeling that she is one of the best contemporary film directors making films today.

  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

    The Man from U.N.C.L.E. 2015

    ★½ Watched 22 Aug, 2015

    Despite a couple of convincingly committed performances by Armie Hammer and Alicia Vikander, this embarrassing attempt to exhume a new James Bond like film franchise from the long dead DNA of an extinct TV series sinks from an absurdly dated cold-war plot and a production that misfires in the lackluster, we've-seen-all-this-before thriller sequences. Blame this mess squarely on director Guy Ritchie, who has never met a coherent screenplay, some laughably cliche villains, and the dreadful miscasting of Henry Cavill as a dead-pan Napoleon Solo without an ounce of irony. The film ends with a teaser for sequels to come. As if...

  • Best of Enemies

    Best of Enemies 2015

    ★★★★½ Watched 21 Aug, 2015

    1968 was a watershed year, undoubtedly the most contentious and tragic year I've experienced in my life (I even edited a disturbingly realistic short film called "The World of '68" for the Smother's Brothers TV show back then.) Best of Enemies is a documentary that harkens back to that year and the unique and ultimately bitter debates that Gore Vidal and William Buckley, Jr. held on ABC's abbreviated coverage of the two presidential conventions that year.

    Utilizing footage from those debates interspersed with interviews and some fascinating film footage from the times, the filmmakers have written and edited a fascinating and entertaining tapestry. The film makes a cogent claim that these debates were the first shot across the bow of a new paradigm of social media as America's sounding board. Maybe that is accurate, maybe not. What is undeniable is that these two intelligent and well spoken mortal enemies, aristocratic representatives of diametrically opposed political philosophies that continue to this day almost unchanged to divide America, gave great theater in the guise of political commentary. In that way they were the precursors of talk television at its best and worst.

  • Batkid Begins: The Wish Heard Around the World

    Batkid Begins: The Wish Heard Around the World 2015

    ★★★ Watched 20 Aug, 2015

    This is a documentary about a sick 5-year old boy who dreams of being his superhero, Batman; and the elaborate social media and traffic stopping event staged by the Make a Wish Foundation in San Francisco to bring this wish to fruition. The film is a feel-good story of charity and the outpouring of good will by a city. But it also plays as a public relations ploy grown to gargantuan proportions. For me, the film was over-long and emotionally manipulative. But there was also some genuine human interest here, even as the film occasionally got bogged down in the minutiae of the process of producing a media spectacle.

  • Phoenix

    Phoenix 2014

    ★★★★ Watched 17 Aug, 2015 4

    In this intriguing German film, the Phoenix is a cabaret-bar in post WWII, war-ravaged Berlin. Of course the Phoenix is also a symbol for rebirth out of the ashes of defeat. Nelly (an ambiguously mysterious performance by Nina Hoss) was a death camp survivor...hideously scarred, but heiress to her decimated Jewish family's fortune kept safe in Switzerland. After plastic surgery restores some of her former appearance, she sets off to find her Gentile husband, Johnny, who is working as a waiter at the Phoenix (a foxy, yet smarmy performance by handsome Ronald Zehrfeld.) Johnny believes his wife was killed in the camps; but the resemblance of this woman is such that he decides that he can claim his wife's inheritance by teaching this "imposter" to impersonate his dead wife. That is the set-up for a slow to develop, but powerful psychological drama about an ironic aspect of Holocaust survival that still seems fresh and relevant.

  • Mistress America

    Mistress America 2015

    ★★★ Watched 16 Aug, 2015

    This is auteur Noah Baumbach's attempt at making a screwball farce about two soon-to-be step sisters living their respective freshman college student and 30-something hipster lives in contemporary New York City. It actually has its moments of cleverness and mirth. But Baumbach's current muse and co-scenarist , Greta Gerwig, returns to her most annoying, ditzy-wise persona after a couple of films where I could actually like her. That was balanced by a nicely grounded performance by Lola Kirke as the younger student. I actually enjoyed watching this film, even as it went over the top into absurdly contrived situational comedy.

  • Straight Outta Compton

    Straight Outta Compton 2015

    ★★★ Watched 15 Aug, 2015

    This is a tough, loud and contentious dramatic film about the genesis of N.W.A. and the gangsta rap scene in Los Angeles starting in the mid-1980's. It has some of the same tropes as traditional pop music biopics (emphasizing the careers of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E.) Since I was unfamiliar with the details of their stories, the first half of the film (which showed how these young African-American men from Compton formed their band and invented a genre) was a fresh and exhilarating story. But the second half, showing how the group fell apart into solo gigs, how the "gangsta" part took over the scene in the persona of Suge Knight, and how the boys were most likely exploited by their "white" manager and record executives, bogged down and felt too long.

    A personal note: back in the 1980s I was living in the Hollywood hills next to an apartment where the occupant was obsessed with hip-hop and rap music, which he played at full volume. At that time I hated the music and my annoying neighbor to the point of considering moving (fortunately for me that he apparently moved out before I became desperate). Over the years I gradually came to like the raw energy and passion of the genre; but having missed out on experiencing the music and events contemporary to this film that were happening only a few miles from where I lived, almost all of the music was unfamiliar and yet surprisingly energizing while sitting in the sold out Academy screening last night. Fortunately, as I get older my tastes do seem to be evolving with the times.

  • The End of the Tour

    The End of the Tour 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 02 Aug, 2015

    This is essentially a two-man acting "tour" de force. Jason Segal is magnificent playing famous author David Foster Wallace, who had just published the best-selling novel "Infinite Jest." (Disclosure: I had missed the Wallace phenomenon entirely, never read anything by him, and he hardly made a dent at the time in my own media obsessed world.) I have no idea how realistic this portrayal was...but for sure this character was entirely inhabited by Segal, an actor who has always seemed to me to mostly play antic caricatures stretching back to his career defining role as Nick in "Freaks and Geeks."

    The film is told from the point of view of author David Lipsky, who in 1996 was working as a staff writer at "Rolling Stone." Lipsky convinced his bosses to let him travel to rural Illinois to follow Wallace for five days on his book tour for "Infinite Jest," which had just begun to achieve Zeitgeist affecting status. Jesse Eisenberg, with his endearing nervous tics and puppy-dog eyes, portrayed Lipsky as he accompanied and tape recorded Wallace at home and on his tour. Apparently the article was never published by "Rolling Stone." Too bad about that; but after Wallace's suicide 12 years later, Lipsky wrote a book about this protracted interview which became the story of this film.

    The film is smart, absorbing and fast paced. Director James Ponsoldt managed to set time and place flawlessly; and his actors did the rest. Brilliant stuff.

  • (Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies

    (Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 02 Aug, 2015

    This informative documentary basically explains what the study of behavioral economics is about. Through skillful editing it tells of rigorous experiments (mostly within academia, but not entirely) carried out by the well funded Dishonesty Project, as explained by Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology & Behavioral Economics at Duke University. His experiments were set up to quantify the basics of common bad behavior such as lying, cheating, rationalizing etc. Professor Ariely is an entertaining lecturer; and his illustrations of his methodology are fascinating. The film also intercuts with visuals and interviews stories of people who were caught in various real-life scandals (a bicyclist who doped, a stock trader who profited from inside information, an NBA referee who became enmeshed by organized crime in a gambling scandal, a housewife who lied about her residence to get her children into a better public school are examples). Some of these went to prison; but their stories are illuminating in validating what the abstract scientific research project discovered.

    If the film making had any flaw, it might be that it was too intelligent, too fast moving for me to stay focused for the full hour and a half of abstract science being explained. Still, the film broaches a subject that is at the forefront of behavioral economics and makes it intelligible for the public.

  • Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

    Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation 2015

    ★★ Watched 01 Aug, 2015

    What thriller movie franchise can create stunts that top all the ones that came before? There is an infernal competition happening between Hollywood live action series (MISSION, BOND, FAST & FURIOUS, and BOURNE) to ratchet up the action and create more and more outrageous stunts. Mission: Impossible at least attempts to add realism by going actual for much of it rather than obvious C.G.I. , something that Christopher Nolan has made a specialty of in recent years.

    However, when can all this mayhem and speed go too far and simply beggar belief? Try this movie. Sure, four times the sophisticated audience in the theater tonight broke into spontaneous applause after yet another amazing, ridiculous action sequence. But for me, this sort of assault on the senses (and bad physics and Wile E. Coyote survivalism) just goes on and on and on and on, until the next stunt just leaves me cold no matter how much it tries to top everything that went before (and in the case of this film they blew the maximum stunt on an airplane before the main title.)

    Anyway, I'm giving points for a dynamite performance by Rebecca Ferguson as a possibly compromised British agent (named Ilsa and major action takes place in Casablanca...some tributes are inherently better than others.) Plus a convoluted plot that did keep me guessing as to who the bad guys really were. And listening to Puccini's Turandot being performed in yet another assassination at the opera sequence was a signal pleasure. But stunt fatigue soon set in. Bottom line: it was all too long and too much.

  • Ender's Game

    Ender’s Game 2013

    ★★★★★ Rewatched 31 Jul, 2015

    Third time around, and I'm still impressed by this film. It explores themes (bullying, genocide, what makes a leader etc.) that far surpass the run-of-the-mill YA, sci fi action flick genre. And it succeeds in building a whole much greater than the sum of its parts. It helps that the acting is superb (especially the amazingly emotionally transparent Asa Butterfield, but Harrison Ford and Viola Davis do fine work here also.) But I also have renewed respect for Gavin Hood who has directed and adapted a difficult book for the screen. Now I can't wait for his new film Eye in the Sky, which is still without a distributor until it premiers at Toronto next month. With Helen Mirren and Aaron Paul, I expect something well worth watching.

  • The Look of Silence

    The Look of Silence 2014

    ★★★★★ Watched 25 Jul, 2015

    Back in 2013 I watched and reviewed the precursor to this documentary: The Act of Killing. I had mixed feelings about the film, which seemed to me to be exaggerated for effect, if nevertheless a powerful indictment of evil. I have no such reservations about this brilliant followup film.

    In 1965, the Indonesian military government (mostly still in power today), supported a genocidal extermination of a million citizens, claiming they were a communist threat. Director Joshua Oppenheimer traveled to Indonesia in 2003 and made the first film which told the story of this genocide from the point of view of the perpetrators, who were still alive and boastful of their deeds. In 2012, before the release of the first film, Oppenheimer returned to Indonesia and shot additional footage featuring the surviving families of the genocide victims (especially centered on 44-year old optometrist, Adi Rukun, whose older brother had been brutally murdered in the 1965 holocaust) confronting the surviving perpetrators and their families with amazingly little rancor in the spirit of reconciliation.

    This is immensely powerful stuff; and I have no further reservations about Oppenheimer's role in disclosing this affair and aiding to heal the past wounds. Although, as shown in this film, Rukun's parents cannot forgive or forget, Oppenheimer told in a fascinating Q&A after the screening how his film has gotten a huge viewership in Indonesia since being released there, and has made a real difference in public perceptions of the government's past crimes and coverups. This is world-shaking documentary film making at its best and most effective.

  • All the Light in the Sky

    All the Light in the Sky 2012

    ★★★★ Watched 25 Jul, 2015

    Jane Adams is luminous playing Marie, a fretful, no-longer-young actress living in a pylon-anchored, cluttered Malibu beach apartment and just relating to life. She morning surfs. She entertains her visiting younger, aspiring actress niece (Sophia Takal). She has brief affairs with guys (Larry Fessenden does a killer Jack Nicholson interpretation), and is constantly making noxious health drinks in her mixer. In other words, she is going through the motions of living as realistically as possible. Joe Swanberg directed (and shot and edited) the film with his usual mumblecore ambling sensibility. But the script, co-written with Adams, manages to get beneath the surface of this woman as few films do. Just like life itself, there is no polished narrative here, and the story just peters out with yet another gorgeous view of the sea from Marie's ocean perched balcony. It's enough.

  • Misery Loves Comedy

    Misery Loves Comedy 2015

    ★★★ Watched 24 Jul, 2015

    Kevin Pollak interviews 56 stand-up comedians and comic actors in this documentary which defines "big-head close-ups". Their commentaries range from such issues as their fathers, the nature of comedy, whether it's necessary to be miserable to make funny etc. The editing of various comics and sequences inter-cut to make one continuous conversation is clever. But if 56 comedians go an hour and a half without a single laugh line (well, maybe a couple of funny anecdotes), the film runs the risk of becoming boring. I did find it mostly interesting; but I was also occasionally bored. This is in stark contrast to the 2005 documentary where 100 comedians all tell the same bad joke in their own fashion, called The Aristocrats, which just might be the funniest film I've ever seen. All I can say is that I'd rather watch comedy people make funny than seriously discuss their art.

  • Live From New York!

    Live From New York! 2015

    ★★★ Watched 23 Jul, 2015

    Sure, this is an entertaining documentary. Forty years of Saturday Night Live! Could it really be that long? There were some skits from various eras (I mostly checked out of this Zeitgeist show after the first cast left, so some of the later stuff was fresh for me...I still hardly cracked a smile.) The film even tried to tell some history and background of the show, interviewing surviving cast, crew and guests..but it all seemed rather perfunctory. I could say it was disappointing; but I have never expected all that much from SNL, so it lived up to my expectations.

  • Every Last Child

    Every Last Child 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 22 Jul, 2015

    Pakistan is one of the three countries that still harbors the polio virus despite the efforts of WHO to distribute oral vaccine to every child. The main problem is that in 2012 the Taliban which controls large areas of western Pakistan declared a jihad against the polio vaccine as part of a Western poisoning plot akin to drone strike killings of children; and several volunteers were murdered while trying to reach the children to administer the liquid. This documentary examines the problem in depth, telling the story from the governments point of view, the Taliban's, the heath workers, and also that of victims of the disease.

    The film is rather slow, and ponderously edited with a dirge like, eastern flavored music track. But it is also freighted with enormous resonance: children in peril, an anti-science religious fervor which reminds us of own vaccine deniers here in the U.S. The stakes are high; since 2012 there is evidence that the water borne polio virus has been spreading to other countries emanating from its reservoir in Pakistan. But the film tells how the Pakistani health officials have developed a tactic of hiding the objective of their efforts, de-emphisizing the word "polio," and staging massive efforts to reach children with military protection for the volunteers. This is a documentary with vital, real-world consequences; and as such it is extremely effective in raising concerns and showing how retrogressive forces like the Taliban actually are affecting all of us.

  • A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

    A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence 2014

    ★★★ Watched 21 Jul, 2015 3

    The film is comprised of a series of satiric vignettes telling stories about human nature, with a pair of "novelty items" salesmen used as a recurring benchmark. The camera is locked down, the scenes are shot entirely as master shots with no internal edits, and the color palette of every scene is severely limited to beige and warm pastels. Another trademark of the great Swedish director Roy Andersson is shooting with wide angle lenses which provide extreme depth of field, with action constantly happening at various depths.

    Having watched and admired the previous two films in Andersson's trilogy (Songs from the Second Floor and You, the Living,) I had to watch this third film. It's pretty safe to say that for all the uniqueness of Andersson's vision, his themes here come out as trite and vapid. Yet the very peculiarity and earnestness of his unconventional actors doing outrageous things did sustain my interest and occasionally struck me as genuinely funny. One non-sequitur scene where soldier King Charles XII stomps into a modern bar on horseback is particularly memorable. That's the thing about Andersson...no matter how head scratchingly weird his movies are, the visual presentation is fabulous.

  • Ant-Man

    Ant-Man 2015

    ★★½ Watched 20 Jul, 2015

    I had a chance to watch a free 3D screening and passed it up. The film in 2D was stunted by a ridiculous plot, even more absurd than most Marvel films (I'm afraid that Edgar Wright as a writer just never seems to match his skill as a director), a cookie-cutter villain (Corey Stoll), and a leading lady (Evangeline Lilly) who seemed wasted, if not irrelevant. But I think I might have enjoyed watching the great, kinetic visuals in 3D, which undoubtedly would have raised my rating at least a half-star. Anyway, it wasn't Paul Rudd's fault. He made the best Marvel comic hero debut since Robert Downey, Jr. first appeared in the original Iron Man. And certainly it was no fault of Michael Peña, who stole every scene he was in. Also, Michael Douglas added some needed gravitas to his role. But it wasn't enough.

  • Irrational Man

    Irrational Man 2015

    ★★★ Watched 19 Jul, 2015

    Woody Allen is channeling Patricia Highsmith (or maybe Ruth Rendell) in this sophisticated, academia based mystery story that is clever enough to spin a tangled web of love and deceit, until it leaves too many unanswered plot holes at the end. The actors are fine, especially Joaquin, who does dissipated professor very well (Emma Stone is just Emma Stone.) But the best thing about today's screening was the Q&A afterwards, listening to Parker Posey dish her Woody experiences mimicking Woody's own voice. Priceless.

    And now I see some of this interview is on YouTube here.

  • You & I

    You & I 2014

    ★★½ Watched 18 Jul, 2015

    A bisexual German, a gay Englishman and a younger Polish sojourner trekking on summer holiday hook up on a road trip through the surprisingly unpopulated Uckermark forest and lake country in Germany. The scenery is beautiful, as are the men; and the full frontal nudity is...nice. But the plot is rather simplistic, mostly about sexual tension rather than sex or meaningful relationships.

  • Those People

    Those People 2015

    ★★★★½ Watched 18 Jul, 2015

    Charlie is a cute, 23-year old gay man, part of a mixed group of Manhattan upper-eastside hipsters which includes his best friend from age 11, Sebastian. Charlie is hung up on Sebastian; although both are gay, they've never made it together. When Sebastian becomes involved in a notorious family scandal, and Charlie falls for Tim, an older Lebanese concert pianist, the interpersonal dynamics of this group of friends is shattered. I'm not going to get into the complexities of the plot of this wonderful film, which is smart and poignant and knocked me for a loop. Suffice it to say that first time writer/director Joey Kuhn has made a film about real people at a stressful junction of their lives who are self-aware and remarkably identifiable. If, like me, you regard Whit Stillman's 1990 film Metropolitan as a signal achievement of indie film making, then you'll understand where I'm coming from in admiring this similar film with gay protagonists.

    Oh, yes, kudos to the three actors, Jonathan Gordon, Jason Ralph and Haaz Sleiman, who are all superbly sympathetic portraying this relationship triangle. And for a first feature film, Kuhn's direction is remarkably assured. The film looks awesome thanks to Leonardo D'Antoni's wide-screen cinematography, and has a particularly effective score by Adam Crystal. All in all, I was blown away; and I'm looking forward to see future work by all involved.

  • 7 Days in Hell

    7 Days in Hell 2015

    ★★ Watched 17 Jul, 2015

    I'm a tennis fan and I laughed. Twice. That's probably enough. The graphics were good anyway, especially the group sex in the prison shower. But as comedies go, this one was...let's say, not very cricket.

  • Beautiful Something

    ★★★★ Watched 16 Jul, 2015

    A writer's blocked poet and a famous sculptor have steamy sex with boy toy Jim in one Philadelphia night of cruising and carousing. That's the set-up for an artfully shot and directed film which, staying just this side of porn, had elements of John Cassavetes and Jean Genet all rolled into one highly charged package.

    The unfamiliar actors (especially cute Zack Ryan as Jim and Brian Sheppard as the poet Brian) are quite convincing in their roles, mostly shot in extreme close-ups. I was particularly impressed with Matthew Boyd's cinematography, utilizing chiaroscuro worthy of Caravaggio to emphasize the shadows of the night and the sexual tension of all of the encounters (although talking to Boyd after the film, he told me that the projection at the Director's Guild was flawed by contrast settings higher than intended...I thought the effect had been done on purpose and worked especially well to emphasize the film's moodiness.) This wasn't an easy, feel-good film. All the promiscuous sex without condoms seemed rather retro. But director Joseph Graham has raised the bar for a realistic, literary, American gay cinema with this film, a niche that has usually been the province of today's French gay cinema.

  • 3½ Minutes, 10 Bullets

    3½ Minutes, 10 Bullets 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 15 Jul, 2015

    Four middle class black teenagers were playing loud rap music in their car while filling up at a Jacksonville, Florida gas station when a middle-age white dude chose to "stand his ground" and shoot to kill the fleeing kids. One boy died. This documentary examines in detail this famous event, emphasizing with actual footage the trial of the white dude which followed.

    The filmmakers tried to remain neutral and just lay out the facts of the case as presented in court. However, by emphasizing the plight of the dead boy's parents, the deck was somewhat stacked. Still, by skillfully editing the actual courtroom testimony, director Silver has produced a true life morality tale as effective as any fictional drama.

  • Hippocrates

    Hippocrates 2014

    ★★★½ Watched 14 Jul, 2015

    Benjamin is a young intern, doing his first service as a doctor in a Parisian hospital. The work is arduous, and despite good intentions, Benjamin makes mistakes (which his father, a doctor and head of the department) helps cover up. Benjamin befriends Abdel, an older Algerian intern (foreign doctors must serve as interns to get their license to practice in France); and the film develops as a realistic hospital drama reminiscent of the TV series "House," which, not coincidentally, is constantly being watched on the hospital's television sets.

    Vincent Lacoste is impressive as Benjamin, youthful, earnest, principled. Reda Kateb matches him as the older Arab doctor. Back in 1963 I spent a week as a patient in a Parisian hospital...and I have to say the experience was much more sanitized than the overworked, underfunded and understaffed ward of this film. But this is an updated and very realistic (one supposes) view of health care in France today. Bottom line: good medical drama, worth watching.

  • Eisenstein in Guanajuato

    Eisenstein in Guanajuato 2015

    ★★★ Watched 13 Jul, 2015

    For my money, Peter Greenaway's increasingly transgressive film making is not a good development. I remain a huge fan of his earlier narrative works from A Zed and Two Noughts through The Pillow Book, a decade of pure genius. Then for whatever reason, his films took a formal turn into digital experimentation that I found hard to follow. Still, this new, large scale narrative biopic, covering a ten day span in Mexico that shook Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein's world, was a lot of fun to watch. The film was especially notable for copious frontal male nudity and (apparently) non-simulated gay sex. But after a while I found the madcap adventures of Eisenstein (a truly manic performance by Elmer Bäck) and his "guide" and lover Palomino Cañedo (Louis Alberti) to be somewhat tedious.

  • Drown

    Drown 2015

    ★★ Watched 12 Jul, 2015

    This distressingly arty Australian gay film was a depiction of bullying and homophobia that left me feeling bereft and a little confused. In telling the story of a trio of lifeguards on a Sydney beach, and their testosterone driven lives leading to disaster, the film maker just went too far...as an audience member I felt violated somehow. The acting, especially by the unfamiliar three leads Matt Levett, Jack Matthews and Harry Cook, was actually quite good...and a reason to live with the fractured narrative and terrible sexual politics (although, to be truthful, probably based on reality.) I admired the misbegotten bravura of the editing, the depiction of the degradation of the gay scene in Sydney, and the frankly hot men. But this is a film I would gladly have missed.

  • Like You Mean It

    ★★½ Watched 11 Jul, 2015

    Mark and Jonah are a thirty-something gay couple trying to deal with rekindling the original spark of their failing relationship through couples therapy. Actor turned writer/director Philipp Karner bravely plays the heel role in the relationship, unable to continue loving his doting partner (an ingratiating performance by Denver Milord), and unwilling to make the effort to deal with the problems that had been required by the therapist.

    This is basically an unpleasant story of mismatched love. Yet, for me at least, my initial bad reaction to the film was, in retrospect, tempered by reflection afterwards. Karner, in what may be a somewhat autobiographical story, managed to touch a universal truth about the nature of gay relationships that has rarely been attempted, let alone successfully portrayed, in films. Give credit where credit is due. But don't expect a rose garden watching this film.

  • Southpaw

    Southpaw 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 12 Jul, 2015 2

    Jake Gyllenhaal is superb, playing light heavyweight boxer Billy Hope (as in "Great White..."). He had won 40+ fights in a row without a defeat, willing to exhaust his opponents by taking blows until he delivered the coup de grace. He was institutionally raised as an orphan from Hells Kitchen, where he met his future wife and support system (a lively performance by Rachel McAdams). They lived the high life, mansion, Rolls-Royces, a pampered 10-year old daughter...until disaster struck and Billy sank to the depths emotionally and financially. That's the setup for this up-then-down-then-maybe-up-again journey of redemption flick.

    Honestly, Kurt Sutter's script was terrible, following every conventional trope of past boxing films in predictable fashion. However, Anton Fuqua somehow managed to surmount the script with strong direction and editing; an excellent, energetic rap-flavored soundtrack; and some of the most convincing boxing action ever put on film. Of course he was aided by Gyllenhaal and McAdams (I'm hoping that Oscar finds Gyllenhaal this year after he was robbed of a deserved nomination for Nightcrawler last year). And the film is blessed with an especially effective child actor performance by Oona Laurence, as Hope's young daughter cast adrift into a heartless child services system.

    For all the film's flaws (mainly the screenplay), I was totally involved and invested with these characters. The film just worked for me, from beginning to satisfying conclusion.

  • Baby Steps 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 12 Jul, 2015

    Hyphenate (writer/director/lead actor) Taiwanese-American filmmaker Barnie Cheng has made what amounts to a sequel to Ang Lee's groundbreaking 1993 gay film The Wedding Banquet. Cheng plays Danny, successful MBA type living in Los Angeles with his Anglo artist boyfriend Tate (Michael Adam Hamilton.) His mother (played by Ya-Lei Kuei, who also played the mother in Banquet) desperately wants a grandchild, and is unwilling to admit that her favorite son is gay. Danny wants Tate to go along with making a child by surrogacy; and momma in Taiwan reluctantly takes part in the arduous project of creating a grandchild.

    In lesser hands than the committed Cheng, this would be a clichéd mess of a film. However, the slick production design and cinematography, excellent acting, and convincing international flavor, along with a genuinely moving script (at least for me, although I heard some grumbling reactions from more jaded members of the festival audience), made for an emotionally satisfying film about gay parenthood.

  • Magic Mike XXL

    Magic Mike XXL 2015

    ★★ Watched 11 Jul, 2015

    The aging, but still fit, boys from Magic Mike, with a couple of crucial absences, get together three years later to compete one last time in a stripper contest at Myrtle Beach. That's the set-up for this inferior sequel which combines fitfully interesting road trip clichés with some nicely choreographed male stripper dance routines in an extended sequence which ends the film.

    Right from the start I was turned off by the dingy, poorly lit cinematography...in a film which clearly called for glamor and glitz. That was balanced by Channing Tatum's soulful acting and dancing as the heart of the story roughly based on his early life as a "male entertainer" (as his career progresses he has become a more convincing actor.) And there's impressive work by others, especially Donald Glover as a sexy rapper, Joe Manganiello, convincingly testosterone driven, and Jada Pinkett Smith who brings fire to the culminating sequence as emcee.

    Bottom line: misbegotten sequel, which only works when the clothes come off.

  • Seashore

    Seashore 2015

    ★★★ Watched 11 Jul, 2015

    Martin and Tomaz are two post-adolescent boys visiting Martin's family vacation home at a Brazilian beach resort during the winter. Martin is there on some mysterious business for his father (the parents are absent), and Tomaz trails along as his friend. Turns out that Tomaz (played by cute actor Mauricio Barcellos) is in the process of coming out, keeping his secret from his best friend who is taking advantage of the ready availability of the neighborhood girls. Most of the film follows this coy depiction of budding sexuality, with not much happening to advance the narrative. Until 3/4 of the way through, the friends have a heart-to-heart conversation which leads to a beautifully shot, extended sex scene that almost makes up for the ennui of the previous material. The film ends with a sequence that is very reminiscent of the end of The 400 Blows, and suddenly it clicked that this was filmmaking in the style of the French New Wave.

  • A Little Chaos

    A Little Chaos 2014

    ★★½ Watched 08 Jul, 2015

    This is a fictionalized costume drama taking place in the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV, and telling the story of the creation of the gardens of Versailles from the point of view of two of the landscape artists. That the artists involved were a man, André Le Notre, and a woman, Sabine De Barra, who have an affair, is the crux of the drama. And even though the two actors, Matthias Schoenaerts and Kate Winslet, are excellent, the film ultimately degenerates into a confusing potboiler of court intrigue and chick flick romanticism. The costumes and setting were sumptuous, in any case. Director Alan Rickman (who also plays Louis XIV) is good with actors; but the pacing was off and the film failed to engage me.

  • Dancing Arabs

    Dancing Arabs 2014

    ★★★★ Watched 08 Jul, 2015

    Currently released under the title A BORROWED IDENTITY.

    Tawfeek Barhom gives a star-making, under-played performance playing Eyad, an Arab Palestinian boy smart enough to be granted a scholarship to Israel's finest Jewish boarding school in the strife torn late 1980s and early 1990s. There he fulfills his public service obligation by aiding and befriending Yonathan, a Jewish boy suffering from muscular dystrophy, and forms a bond with Yonathan's supportive mother. Also, he has an affair with a Jewish girl, despite her parents disapproval. That is the set-up for a riveting story which is both a personal coming of age and a sympathetic examination of the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict, mostly from the Arab point of view. Once again, Israeli director Eran Riklis (whose previous films included The Syrian Bride and Zaytoun) showcases a particularly even-handed, personalized outlook on the Arab-Jewish conflict.

    I loved this film, which provided fascinating historical context and also a hero that I could identify with. The families, both Palestinian and Israeli, were vividly written and acted. As for the "forbidden" love affair, this was the straight equivalent to that of the two men from opposite sides in the marvelous recent Israeli gay film, Out in the Dark. I'm not going to get into spoiler territory (although the new title does provide perhaps too strong a clue to the film's outcome); but suffice it to say that my only problem with this film was that it ended too soon, leaving me desperate to know what happens to Eyad in the future. A sequel is definitely called for.

  • Terminator Genisys

    Terminator Genisys 2015

    ★½ Watched 07 Jul, 2015

    I love the Terminator series...even the tacky TV show "The Sarah Connor Chronicles." The concept of man vs. machine, as well done as it has been in past films, just appeals to me. However, this film was all wrong from the casting to the mixed up, anachronistic time travel story (when grown-up Kyle Reese encountered his teen-age self with no consequences to the time line, my head exploded.)

    I adore Emilia Clarke as Daenerys in "Game of Thrones." But she's all wrong here for Sarah, too light weight to fill the shoes of Linda Hamilton or even Lena Headey (from the tv show). As for Jason Clarke's John Connor and Jai Courtney's Kyle Reese...neither worked nearly as well for me as previous incarnations. Only the "young" Arnold Schwarteznegger, a miracle of CGI and makeup, pulled off his role with the swagger that made the original creation of the Terminator such an icon.

    Bottom line: at least one, if not more, sequels too many.

  • Seymour: An Introduction

    Seymour: An Introduction 2014

    ★★★ Watched 02 Jul, 2015

    Seymour Bernstein is an elderly classical pianist, composer and teacher. He also seems like a hell of a nice guy in this documentary directed by Ethan Hawke, who admires Bernstein as a valued mentor. The film is made up of almost wall-to-wall scenes of Seymour either talking about his musical philosophy, playing classical romantic music on a series of Steinway grands while talking about it, or teaching a series of talented students while talking about them and their relationship to the music they're playing. Hawke's direction is rather invisible (although some of the more interesting parts of the film are when Hawke himself is on screen admiring his mentor.) After a while I just stopped listening to the words, which seemed repeat familiar themes, and just enjoyed the music and spending time with this interesting, if verbose, gentleman.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl 2015

★★★½ Watched 01 Jul, 2015

The good: immaculate casting...Thomas Mann is ideal as the emotionally vulnerable high school nerd. Olivia Cook plays the identical sickly role as she does in "Bates Motel". The adults are seasoned veterans who all run with their comically spot-on parential and teacher roles.

More good: the fake movie posters and satirical videos designed to tickle one's inner cineaste (I am particularly vulnerable to that sort of thing...I'd love to slo-mo the eventual DVD just to savor the nuances and inside references.)

The bad: can we say emotionally manipulative script?

Bottom line: I enjoyed watching this film a lot more than I should have, considering how predictable and clichéd the whole thing was. However, unlike the similarly manipulative The Fault in our Stars, I remained dry-eyed.

  • Tangerine

    Tangerine 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 30 Jun, 2015

    Sin-Dee and Alexandra, two fabulous drag queens of color, bitch fight their way through one long Christmas Eve, plying the streets of Hollywood, CA. What unfolds is a raucous indie comedy that plays like a truthful breath of fresh air. The film expands to tell the story of Razmik a married Armenian taxicab driver who has a thing for the "ladies," and his snoopy mother-in-law out to expose him. And then there is Chester, the pimp who hangs out at the corner Donut Time, who has been two-timing Sin-Dee with Dinah, one of his actual woman ho's. The film plays as a frenetic farce; but it is always grounded in the realistic portrayals of its melange of characters (only one of which is a familiar-to-me actor, James Ransone as Chester.) Amazingly enough, this film was shot on an iPhone 5...and yet it looks great on the big screen, utilizing natural lighting and expert camera work. This film will offend some with its unconventional cast of characters and profane dialog. But it's the funniest comedy in a while and I enjoyed every moment.

  • 1971

    1971 2014

    ★★★★ Watched 30 Jun, 2015

    This documentary tells the heretofore untold story of the 1971 document heist of the FBI office at Media, PA. The perps were never caught; but 44 years later, five survivors of the nine people involved have decided to tell their story in this film. It's actually fascinating and well told through interviews, stock footage and re-creations. Before Watergate, before the Pentagon Papers, before Edward Snowden, these stolen documents proving ongoing, illegal surveillance by the FBI had a huge impact on the national scene. The film plays like a true-life thriller; and the document thieves, now elderly or dead, are unsung heroes of that trouble plagued era.

  • My Italian Secret: The Forgotten Heroes

    My Italian Secret: The Forgotten Heroes 2014

    ★★★ Watched 29 Jun, 2015

    There are still important documentaries to be made from the experiences of the Holocaust. As more and more survivors die off, and as the horrors recede in memory, it seems to me that the stories yet to be told should not be ignored just because "I've heard all this before." This informative and rather straightforward film documents several stories about Jews living in Italy during WWII, and the brave Catholics who risked their lives helping to keep most of them from the extermination camps.

    The film emphasizes the story of famed Italian bicycle racer Gino Bartali (twice winner of the Tour de France) who sneaked forged ID documents in the chassis of his practice racing bike. But it also tells of entire monasteries and plain folks who hid Jews and aided them to escape the German occupied north of Italy from 1943 until the end of the war. The stories are told from the pov of several elderly survivors and their surviving children and grandchildren. The film also utilizes subtle and authetic costumed re-creations of events, with actors. It's tastefully done. There have been better, more emotionally stirring films telling similar stories; but these events and the deeds of these heroes deserve to be noted for posterity.

  • Monkey Kingdom

    Monkey Kingdom 2015

    ★★★ Watched 28 Jun, 2015

    Disney nature documentaries have their own mystique. Technically they are usually quite remarkable, getting the lowdown on their subjects with a tenacity that usually provides some startling revelations. This documentary tells the story (yes, one of the hallmarks of Disney is that their nature films are edited to tell a story) of a tribe of toque macaque monkeys who inhabit the jungles of Sri Lanka. The film focuses on one low-born female, call her Maya, and her mating with the roving male Kumar and the adventures of their offspring Kip. Thus a narrative is born, with wall-to-wall narration (by Tina Fey) showing the story of the monkey tribe fighting for food, protecting their territory as it is challenged by a rival tribe, and marauding for food and enjoying amusing adventures in the city. By personalizing the narrative, the film can easily be compared to an animated fiction film featuring lovable animals...only this is live action, and the script is probably imposed on real events. Nevertheless, one has to admire the film for what it is. Only I prefer my documentaries to have more grit and human interest. Different strokes...

  • Testament of Youth

    Testament of Youth 2014

    ★★★½ Watched 27 Jun, 2015

    Alicia Vikander (the actor who burst into my purview playing the robot in Ex-Machina) is remarkable in this WWI era drama based on the famed anti-war memoir by British pacifist crusader Vera Brittain. The film tells the story of the real Brittain's involvement with three boys from 1914 on, boys who start out as innocents excited to go to war, but whose fates are foretold and somehow inevitable. One of these boys was Roland Leighton (played by a dashingly coiffed Kit Harrington...I kept wanting to say to the character "You know nothing, Roland Leighton.") If this film isn't quite the equal of All Quiet on the Western Front as a war film, it still excels as a wartime romance...sad and involving. Maybe it was just a tad too much of a "woman's picture" for my tastes; but after all, it was this incredible woman's tragic true life story, so I can forgive that.

  • The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest

    The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest 2014

    ★★★★ Watched 27 Jun, 2015

    There is a subset of documentary which sort of started with Errol Morris's The Thin Blue Line about abject failures of the justice system. This film is the latest example, and one of the best and most ironic. Thirty years ago, 19-year old Mark DeFriest was sentenced to four years in prison for "stealing" his dead father's tools prior to probate (when his vindictive step-mother complained to police, even though the tools would eventually have been Mark's property.) Unfortunately Mark was most likely psychotic, and he became a serial disciplinary problem in prison (multiple prison breaks, victim of horrendous mass rapes and even worse abuses by a succession of prison guards leading to over 27 years in solitary.) Over time his release date had moved forward to 2081 due to additional added penalty time, all that for what amounted to something of a non-crime to begin with (Florida's justice system and its prisons certainly gets roasted in this film.)

    This film inspires anger at a terrible system; but ultimately the audience finds no satisfaction here. Let's face it, Mark DeFriest isn't the most sympathetic of subjects; but he probably (and according to this film certainly) doesn't deserve what life has dished out. The film is quite well written and edited to make its points, with effective animation to re-create past events...although I was left wondering how, if the film were accurate, this situation ever happened in the first place and continues to this day.

  • Eden

    Eden 2014

    ★★★★ Watched 24 Jun, 2015

    Paul is a teenager in 1992, living in Paris and obsessed with electronic dance music and the rave scene. Along with a friend he drops out of school and becomes a famous club DJ; and despite a cocaine addiction and multiple difficult relationships, his career has its ups and downs through 2013. Paul was based on the life and career of director Mia Hanson-Love's brother Sven (who wrote the screenplay). Félix de Givry, an exciting young presence in French cinema, gave a wonderfully understated performance as Paul, who is in just about every scene and grounds the film in reality.

    The film itself is a string of chronological episodes, with clever graphic titles to set the year. What unifies these episodes is an almost unbroken music sound track which plays like an elaborate club DJ set of '90s and 00's dance music that lasts 21 years. The entire film could have used some editing; there are sequences that could easily have been eliminated. However I was blown away by the excitement of the production and totally involved with Paul's upward and downward character arc. It didn't bother me a bit (as it has others) that very little effort was made to age the characters realistically. For de Givry, a little extra facial hair went a long way to explain 21 years passing by.

    I'm aware that this film isn't going to have universal appeal...there are events that are difficult to handle (particularly the drugs and one character's foreshadowed suicide). It was also hard to differentiate many of the characters in the large cast, since little effort was made to round out the many who remained stereotypes. However, I was entranced by the world created in this film.

  • Iris

    Iris 2014

    ★★★★ Watched 23 Jun, 2015

    Iris Apfel is a nonagenarian phenomenon: a woman whose entire being has been devoted for decades to a unique sense of stylishness (or depending on one's point of view, to kitsch.) Her claim to fame is a lifetime of shopping for bargains and collecting fabulous clothes, accessories, art objects etc. and using them to make herself into a unique creation. She's definitely outspoken; and even in her 90's she has all her marbles and more. She's the subject of this always interesting documentary by elderly, cinema verité documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles (who recently passed on.) The old bag is certainly interesting enough to make a movie about (after all, this is the filmmaker who shot Grey Gardens); and the editing and cinematography are fine enough to keep one intrigued. But I was definitely ready to take my leave of Mrs. Apfel (and her 100-year old, still sharp husband Carl) by the end of the film.

  • The Face of an Angel

    The Face of an Angel 2014

    ★★ Watched 21 Jun, 2015

    Michael Winterbottom, a director I have admired in the past, attempts to fictionalize the Amanda Knox Italian murder trial by inventing a troubled filmmaker (played by Daniel Brühl) attempting to write a come-back screenplay about the affair. Unfortunately, Winterbottom's own screenplay is as overwrought and botched as his fictitious film maker's. Even the Tuscan scenery is wasted.

  • The Tribe

    The Tribe 2014

    ★★★ Watched 21 Jun, 2015

    This uncompromisingly brutal film tells the story of a deaf-mute boy who enters the insular world of a boarding school for deaf-mutes, and is initiated into a corrupt and criminal clique within the school (the eponymous "tribe.") Since the entire film plays for its 130 minutes in Ukrainian signing with no subtitles or words of any kind, the viewer is thrust into an unfamiliar world with few signposts. Along the way, the audience is subjected to unimaginable violence, raw sex, and the most graphic abortion scene since 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. That the film is formally groundbreaking, reminiscent of such exemplars of assaultive hyper-realism as Haneke, Dumont and the Dardenne brothers, is what makes the film worth watching. Incidentally, the entire cast is comprised of actual deaf-mute non-actors. What the director achieved with this canvas was quite extraordinary, even if I was totally repelled by the film and its message.

  • Infinitely Polar Bear

    Infinitely Polar Bear 2014

    ★★★½ Watched 20 Jun, 2015

    This is writer/director Maya Forbes's clearly autobiographical take on her growing up in the 1970s in a mixed-racial family with a bi-polar ("Polar Bear") father, and a younger sister. I'm not going to effuse about this film since my own personal relationships with similar bi-polar persons (even to this day) made this film extraordinarily difficult to watch. Still, truth is truth; and Mark Ruffalo was spectacularly on target with this underplayed characterization of the father (although mostly manic as written here.) All the actors are flawless...I particularly admired the brave choice to have the director's own daughter Imogene Wolodarsky play her mother as a pre-teenager. The film rambles from one memorable anecdote to the next from the child's point of view, with no real conclusion other than that she survived. That's enough to make this observational drama about how mental illness affects a family worth watching.

  • The Hunting Ground

    The Hunting Ground 2015

    ★★★★½ Watched 19 Jun, 2015

    This documentary claims (and effectively shows with many examples) that there is an epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses nationwide; and that the various universities are covering it up for monetary and public relations reasons. The film is relevant, skillfully edited and passes the smell test...the college administrations reek of the corruption of the big money of sports and donors. The film also shows with interviews with victims and campus protesters, a path to redemption as government steps in to enforce Title IX. This is an example of activist documentary film making at its best.

  • Dope

    Dope 2015

    ★★½ Watched 18 Jun, 2015

    Three nerdy, hip-hop band performing high school seniors in the most gang infested, violence prone area of Inglewood, CA, find themselves accidentally in possession of several bricks of the designer drug "molly". That's the set-up for this frenetic comedy where every other piece of dialog is the "N" word, and bitcoins are the currency of the new hip.

    OK, I'm not the intended audience for this film, admittedly. But I loved the Pharrell Williams inspired music; and the three leads (Shameik Moore, Kiersey Clemons and Tony Revolori who was the lobby boy in Grand Budapest Hotel) were a delight. But the pacing was overamped, the sex scenes gratuitous and the cringe-worthy dialog muddled. Other than that, this was the kind of crazy, 21st century, urban farce that its intended audience will undoubtedly flock to.

  • Gardeners of Eden

    Gardeners of Eden 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 18 Jun, 2015

    The eponymous "gardeners of Eden" are the wild elephants who instinctively tend the savannahs of the Tsavo National Park in Eastern Kenya. These elephants are increasingly the prey of poachers who lust after their tusks to be sold as ivory, an activity that will likely make the species extinct in a decade or so. This documentary tells of the fate of these elephants and their orphaned babies; and how the battle against poachers is fought while efforts are made to rescue the orphan elephants and eventually return them to the wild. When it comes to the evil doings of humans, it's hard to shock me. But the depravity of these poachers and the heroics of the conservators who work to save the elephant herds (including film producer, actress Kristin Davis) managed to both sicken and ultimately move me.

  • The Forecaster

    The Forecaster 2015

    ★★½ Watched 16 Jun, 2015

    This documentary may be the most frightening story of justice perverted and government malfeasance ever...or maybe it's the story of an economic crime on a huge scale (i.e. a multi-billion dollar Ponzi Scheme to end all Ponzi schemes, although nobody is claiming any losses as near as I can figure). I'm still not sure; although the film sure made me feel uneasy about governments and the world's financial stability.

    There's no doubt that Martin Armstrong, an unschooled economist and financial seer (and the subject of the film) was railroaded into 12 years imprisonment for practically nothing. But the case presented in this film was too complex and murky, relying on a series of dry interviews that droned on for an hour and a half. And after all was said and done, I still didn't understand what the film was actually about. I never was that good at the study of economics at university; but it seemed to me that the filmmaker just didn't organize the material to make sense of what occurred. Or maybe I just dozed through the parts of the film that actually brought clarity.

  • Entourage

    Entourage 2015

    ★★★ Watched 14 Jun, 2015

    I liked the HBO series which successfully satirized the excesses of successful, young Hollywood celebrity lives. The movie is just more of the same on a larger screen. For me, this was a better transition to a self-contained movie than what was attempted with Sex and the City. The script was clever, the characters and their antics still amusing, the satire of the studio and Hollywood culture realistic and relevant (to a degree.) But my favorite part of the film was over in the first two minutes: a glorious main title sequence which imposed the titles realistically over such iconic L.A. landmarks as Pinks and Randy's Donuts utilizing the authentic type styles of each building. Maybe you had to be an L.A. native to get how wonderful this was...but I felt like applauding. The rest of the film never quite lived up to that level of creativity.

  • Madame Bovary

    Madame Bovary 2014

    ★★ Watched 14 Jun, 2015

    How can a "costume drama" with fabulous costumes and gorgeous production design be so boring and misbegotten? Well, this version of Flaubert's scandalous novel manages that difficult task. Most importantly, I didn't buy Mia Wasikowska in the title role: more mademoiselle than madam, shrilly projecting an unrealistic naivety and lack of sexual chemistry with any of her three lovers (all of whom were reasonably acceptable in their roles, particularly Logan Marshall-Green as the cruel marquis.) Honestly, the recent modern day French farce Gemma Bovery, was a better version of the story than this mess.

  • The Dark Horse

    The Dark Horse 2014

    ★★★★ Watched 13 Jun, 2015

    Genesis (a wonderfully intense performance by Cliff Curtis) was a former Maori chess prodigy nicknamed "Dark Horse", who was eventually crippled by mental illness. In this based-on-a-true-story inspirational drama, somehow he summons the grit to help his 15 year-old nephew (James Rolleston who was memorable in the 2012 film Boy) escape from his brother's abusive Maori gang through his getting involved as a mentor with a local kid's chess club. This New Zealand film manages to be intense and believable without becoming sappy.

  • Jurassic World

    Jurassic World 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 13 Jun, 2015

    Does it bother me a bit that this is basically the same story as the 22-year old Jurassic Park which already has had two lamer sequels? Honestly no...since this film, at least, managed to rekindle my sense of wonder for a few moments at a time. And let's face it, the basic thriller plot of over-reaching mankind humbled by forces of nature is still a potent one. If Bryce Dallas Howard makes an annoying heroine, at least Chris Pratt is growing into his hero roles convincingly. And the two kids were fine despite their underwritten roles and predictable story arc. No, let's face it: people and their puny concerns aren't the point here. Technology is...various sized dinosaurian monsters are. And here, thanks to some really fine technical wizardry, it worked for me

  • Farewell to Hollywood

    Farewell to Hollywood 2013

    ★★★★ Watched 12 Jun, 2015

    Filmmaker Henry Corra befriended 16-year old Regina Nicholson, who had been diagnosed with osteosarcoma (metastasizing childhood bone cancer.) The documentary is fuzzy about the genesis of their relationship; but Reggie is a film nut...and is determined that her filmic masterpiece will be her own story. She has a rocky relationship with her parents, who were dubious about her relationship with 58-year old Corra; and on her 18th birthday, Reggie left home and Corra became her caregiver as they videoed the progression of her illness together.

    The film is edited chronologically, with frequent references to the movies that Reggie loved to watch. It is beautifully shot, for the most part, and scored with a low-level dirge like song score which adds much to the pathos of the predictable course of Reggie's fight for life. Reggie's sunny, smart personality and her pluck despite the pain and torture of her ceaseless medical struggles, raises the level of the audience involvement in the film (which otherwise would be a depressing downer.) For all the sadness of its inevitable conclusion, this is a remarkably life affirming documentary.

  • Dreamcatcher

    Dreamcatcher 2015

    ★★½ Watched 12 Jun, 2015

    Brenda Myers-Powell was a prostitute in Chicago who turned her life around and is now co-executive director of the Dreamcatcher Foundation. This documentary follows Brenda as she reaches into the community and non-judgmentally helps girls and women to deal with bettering their lives. The stories she encounters are heartbreaking; and Brenda (and her many fabulous wigs) is a wonderful role model. British woman director Longinotto offers a straightforward, cinema verité camera which just follows Brenda around without editorializing as she does her outreach to hoes and high school students. The film's lack of structure and the unrelenting woefulness of the subject matter does become wearying after a while.

  • The Farewell Party

    The Farewell Party 2014

    ★★★½ Watched 10 Jun, 2015

    The elderly inhabitants of an Israeli retirement home get together to commit mercy killings using a home made, self-administered suicide machine. The film plays as a comedy with serious overtones. The characterizations ring true to life; and the various stories are poignant without going saccharin. I'm of an age where this film is terrifyingly relevant (plus my own Alzheimer's afflicted, 97 year old mother could have been portrayed in this film.) This is one of those rare film comedies that portray elderly characters realistically, without patronizing. If the actual plot is fairly predictable, at least the filmmakers' sensitivity and compassion shine through.

  • Love & Mercy

    Love & Mercy 2014

    ★★★★ Watched 06 Jun, 2015

    This film goes into the unconventional pop music biopic bag. It is a dramatization of two periods of the life of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson...sort of the way Todd Haynes' I'm Not There became an impressionistic biopic about Bob Dylan.

    Veteran producer and first time director Bill Pohlad, and screenplay writers Owen Moverman and Michael Lerner made two crucial decisions. First have eerie look-alike Paul Dano play Brian in the super-creative, but neurotic mid-1960s portion; and then use a relatively superannuated John Cusack to play Brian in his psychotic breakdown period of the 1980s. And then cleverly intercut the two period narratives running parallel, to emphasize the lifestyle and creative disparities. This works far better than one would suppose, mainly because the vastly different situations of a mere twenty years separation are crucial in understanding Wilson's progression into benign psychosis.

    Dano is especially superb at representing the soul of Wilson's most creative 1960s period (I was reminded of Miles Teller's obsessive application to his drumming in Whiplash.) And Cusack does super-neurotic helplessness very well. The film is aided by two other fine performances in the 1980s sequences: Paul Giamatti, relentless and vile as the quack psychiatrist Dr. Eugene Landy, and Elizabeth Banks, luminous as the woman that Wilson enlists to help him escape from Landy's over-medicating clutches.

    The film isn't perfect. The pacing is off at times, and the editing schema occasionally becomes cumbersome. But the film is wildly successful at providing insight into Wilson's creative process and the Beach Boy's music. Back in the 1960s I loved the Beach Boys and admired their struggle to compete with Beatles at the summit of pop music brilliance. For me, they both comprised the dueling yin and yang of my concept of contemporary music at its most exalted. At the very least, Love & Mercy got the Beach Boys role in that pantheon exactly right.

  • Inside Out

    Inside Out 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 06 Jun, 2015

    The premise is clever and unique: representing pictorially and metaphorically the phenomena of human emotions and memory. The 3D animation is among Pixar's best (glowing shadows, huge scope, expressive characters.) The vocal acting is quite fine. Too bad for me that the story was just not my cuppa. I could relate to it with my intellect; but the emotional content just didn't register. Maybe I'm just an old grouch, the audience seemed rapt for the most part. Anyway, I am giving it an extra 1/2 star for the sheer brilliance of the concept.

  • Deli Man

    Deli Man 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 04 Jun, 2015

    This interesting, fun, and let's face it scrumptious documentary shows the history of Jewish delicatessens, from their heyday when there were about 5,000 delis in the NYC area alone to the present day when there probably are only 200 left in the entire country. The film centers on one third generation deli man, Ziggy Gruber - cordon bleu chef and restauranteur owner of the Kenny & Ziggy's New York Deli in Houston. But it also spans the nation interviewing other deli "men," and showing them plying their trade and delivering their traditional "hamish" deli meals (the film is filled with Yiddishisms, which it presents amusingly with subtitles). As foodie documentaries go, this one ranks high for mouth watering presentation of the ethnic food (corn beef, pastrami, kugel, thin sliced lox etc.) But the people stories (other than with Ziggy and his family) are somewhat perfunctory. I know where I'll go now if I ever find my way to Houston, Texas.

  • Champs

    Champs 2015

    ★★★ Watched 03 Jun, 2015

    Iron Mike Tyson gets top producer credit on this documentary about the fight game (boxing, that is.) The film mainly covers the life and career of three disparate African American boxers, Tyson himself, Evander Holyfield and Bernard Hopkins. But it is also to some extent a history of boxing, and a moving exposé of the way the poor become boxers only to be ruthlessly exploited by the business. The credits are first class; and the film is at least as entertaining as a boxing match. Which means I responded to the message, but didn't enjoy the film very much.

  • Above and Beyond

    Above and Beyond 2015

    ★★★★½ Watched 02 Jun, 2015

    In 1947 the U.N. partitioned the British Mandate of Palestine between Jewish and Arab factions. By May, 1948 when the British withdrew, the Arab armies with their overwhelming numbers and superior equipment were massed to attack; and the Jewish forces had no air support, no war planes. This documentary tells the story of the almost miraculous formation of an Israeli air force from the point of view of several now elderly American pilots who risked their passports and even their citizenship to help break an American embargo of arms and airplanes to the region.

    Using special effects and amazing footage from the time, along with interviews with the surviving airmen and present day historians, the film weaves a skillful and emotionally satisfying chronological tapestry of that fateful battle for Israel's survival, culminating in the final truce of 1949. I'll admit, that maybe as a secular Jew I was prone to be especially receptive to the heroics of the men and women who beat all odds in winning the war which safeguarded the new state. However, there's no denying that the film was well written and edited to produce a clear record of the events, and a moving tribute the the members of the "Greatest Generation" who helped form the nation of Israel.

  • The Wrecking Crew

    The Wrecking Crew 2008

    ★★★½ Watched 01 Jun, 2015

    [Seen and reviewed at a film festival in 2008]

    The director's father, Tommy Tedesco, was a great guitar player who was part of a group of relatively unknown studio musicians called the "Wrecking Crew" which backed up most of the really great L.A. rock and pop groups of the 1960's through the mid-80's. Such groups as the Beach Boys, the Association, the Mamas and the Papas used them; plus they made up the backbone of Phil Spector's wall of sound. This documentary is a tribute to these men (and one woman), using interviews with many of those still alive plus generous portions of the songs they helped produce. This was my era of music...I don't think there was one song here that I didn't know and that didn't provide the sound track of my life. Plus all this happened within a mile of where I lived and worked (and even was a peripheral participant in this scene as a music video editor and filmmaker). So for me, this was a fascinating evocation of a part of the music industry that I was only dimly aware of at the time. The film was emotionally satisfying, to say the least; but as a documentary film it was rather straightforward and broke no new ground.

  • Nightingale

    Nightingale 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 31 May, 2015

    David Oyelowo gives a tour de force performance, a one-man, maniacal soliloquy of a man disintegrating on webcam to unseen on-line voyeurs. The film itself is hard to watch...mainly because it is such a true to life portrayal of mental illness and the destructive nature of thwarted desire. Outstanding direction and editing; but oh, so depressing.

  • Tomorrowland

    Tomorrowland 2015

    ★★ Watched 30 May, 2015

    It's not really a terrible film. The special effects were passable...in its way this is as retro a live action sci-fi epic as The Iron Giant was a retro animated sci-fi epic. But the plot was simplistic, the acting sub-par, the message so earnest and lacking in subtlety that it set my teeth on edge. OK, so maybe I'm a miserable skeptic stuck in relentless pessimism. But this Disneyfication of the future didn't strike me as feasible or even desirable.

  • The Film Critic

    The Film Critic 2013

    ★★★ Watched 26 May, 2015

    An Argentine film critic is so pretentious that he narrates his life to himself in French. His disdain for the Hollywood type rom-com genre movies that he watches in screening rooms is manifest until he, himself falls for a quirky woman with ironic consequences. The film is a meta treasure trove for cineastes, with some fine montages and clever camera work. Actually the movie references were amusing; but the two main characters and their relationship never quite overcame the inherent cliches of the genre satire.

  • 5 Flights Up
  • 5 Flights Up 2014

    ★★½ Watched 18 May, 2015

    There's nothing actually wrong with this pleasantly innocuous film. It's the story of an elderly couple attempting to exchange their 40-year occupied, 5th floor walk-up condo view apartment in Brooklyn for another one more adapted to old age frailties. The central interracial couple (Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman, plus two unfamiliar look-alikes playing them as newly weds) are fetchingly human scale, even boring in their ordinary quirkiness. There's actually a weird comparison here to Love is Strange, Ira Sachs' recent film about a gay couple with a sort-of similar New York apartment quandary...Keaton's character even comments how 40-years earlier their marriage was illegal in many states. But social commentary isn't this film's long suit. Rather it is more about NYC real estate than about real people with problems that actually matter.

  • Mad Max: Fury Road

    Mad Max: Fury Road 2015

    ★★★★½ Watched 17 May, 2015

    This is one glorious action film with great forward thrust, some of the best stunt work ever presented on film, and an incomparable dynamic sound scape which never stops thrilling. The only thing that keeps this from achieving an historic 5-star rating is that the supernaturally extended chase plot is somewhat rudimentary (at least compared with the psychological complexities of past Mad Max extravaganzas)...and that the eponymous Max, as portrayed by Tom Hardy, doesn't quite match Mel Gibson's achievement of human scaled crazy. But Nicholas Hoult almost makes up for that with an over-the-top elan.

  • Bessie

    Bessie 2015

    ★★½ Watched 17 May, 2015

    An ever-so-ordinary HBO biopic about Bessie Smith. Some fine performances: Mo'Nique surprises as Ma Rainey. And Queen Latifah gives it her all in the title role; but it doesn't quite ring down and dirty enough. Good production values...the setting is expensively authentic. But I didn't finish the all-too-abrupt, seemingly unfinished ending of the movie feeling that I had any real understanding of Bessie, her music, and especially her soul.

  • Good Kill

    Good Kill 2014

    ★★★ Watched 16 May, 2015

    This profoundly unsettling film tells the story of USAF Major Thomas Egan (who may or may not be based on a real person, a la American Sniper, it's sort of unclear.) After several tours of duty in the Middle East flying fighter planes, Egan has been stationed in 2010 at a base near Las Vegas flying drones in Afghanistan, and killing wantonly by remote control the enemy (and under the C.I.A. rules of engagement, also often killing civilians who are considered mere collateral damage.) This allows him to fight the war in relative personal safety, going home every night to his children and nonetheless unsatisfied wife (a startlingly good performance by January Jones who emotes in one movie more than she did in seven seasons of "Mad Men" episodes.)

    Ethan Hawke plays Egan with a stalwart stoicism which belies his inner conflict (killing up close and personal in a fighter plane is somehow preferable to playing a video game with real-life consequences.) Director Noccol (who directed Hawke in a similar performance in Gattaca) made the film without U.S. military approval or assistance, understandably. But its anti-drone warfare message, and the portrayal of modern warfare U.S. style (no pussyfooting on the issue of "war crimes"), marks this as a subversive film. Too bad its important message is obscured by its over-obvious screenplay.

  • Welcome to Me

    Welcome to Me 2014

    ★★★ Watched 09 May, 2015

    Kristen Wiig plays Alice Klieg, a woman working out the solipsistic fantasy of winning the lottery and using her new found wealth to purchase fame by letting her personality disordered id run riot on a self-directed television show called "Welcome to Me." In a way this is the tamer, more localized, female version of The Truman Show, with Klieg spotlighted (note the name) in her own fantasy world to the detriment of all around her (especially her best friend Gina, beautifully portrayed by Linda Cardellini). The resulting film was a little too manic for my tastes; but the excellent supporting cast (including Wes Bentley who should be a big star by now but seems stuck in a supporting role rut lately), Wiig's convincing loopiness straight out of an extended "Saturday Night Live" skit, and the film's remarkable production design kept me watching.

  • The Casual Vacancy

    The Casual Vacancy 2015

    Watched 07 May, 2015

    Why did this BBC/HBO mini-series exist? The characters are either reprehensible or pitiful, powerless victims. The point of the story, if there is one, is confusing...or worse, subversive and dispiriting. By the end of the 3rd and last part I would have (to borrow an on-line reviewer's phrase) preferred to have stuck a fork in my eye.

  • Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

    Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck 2015

    ★★★★½ Watched 02 May, 2015

    This documentary covers the remarkable, short life of artist and musician Kurt Cobain. It was made from a treasure trove of materials (the famed notebooks, Cobain's artworks, and hundreds of hours of super-8 movies and audio tapes that the obsessive, hyperactive man produced that were stored after his death.) All this was collected and presented with the support of Cobain's now grown-up daughter by the genius director Brett Morgen (who revolutionized the art of animating source materials in his seminal 2002 documentary about Robert Evans, The Kid Stays in the Picture.)

    What results is simply one of the all-time great music documentaries...with an amazing, mind expanding sound design and inventive graphic visual presentation. It also is an unapologetically close-up view, junkie warts and all, of the troubled artist and his tragic life. I wasn't a Nirvana fan at the time; in fact grunge rock and the Seattle sound totally escaped my notice for the most part. But I'm thankful that in 2015 I was able to experience what these amazing artists (both rock star and film maker) produced on a big screen with the best sound system possible. My advice: don't just watch this doc on HBO, or god forbid on an iPad. Try to catch it at full volume with the best sound system possible.

  • Avengers: Age of Ultron

    Avengers: Age of Ultron 2015

    ★★ Watched 02 May, 2015

    Frankly, most inane, totally predictable comic book action movies bore me. This one had too many stock heroes, too many repetitive action sequences, too many essentially same old same old villains, too much cheesy and obvious special effects...simply unbelievable excess from first frame to last. Even the presence of some of my favorite actors: Johansson, Evans, Taylor-Johnson, Downey Jr, Ruffalo, Renner, Spader, Cheadle, Bettany couldn't convince me to watch another inevitable sequel. I was too old for Marvel comics (DC was the big deal when I was a kid); and I'm too discerning for this drivel.

  • Bon Rétablissement !

    Bon Rétablissement ! 2014

    ★★★½ Watched 28 Apr, 2015

    [Watched at a film festival under the name "Get Well Soon".]

    Gerard Lanvin plays Pierre, a grizzled Parisian retiree who, at the start of the film, was severely injured in a hit-and-run auto vs. pedestrian accident and thrust over a bridge and into the Seine. He's saved by a young rent-boy who jumped into the river; and subsequently he spends most of the film confined to a hospital bed in a body cast. That is the set-up for a pleasant enough dramedy about rehabilitating a damaged character both physically and mentally. Lanvin is very good here; and the script is inventive and amusing in its view of hospitalization and the revelations of its more or less quirky characters.

  • Soldat blanc

    Soldat blanc 2013

    ★★★★ Watched 27 Apr, 2015

    The setting is Indochina in 1946, as the French army returned to the country post-WWII to reclaim the colony and protect the colonialists. However, they weren't quite prepared for the Viet Minh who were planning and waging a war of independence. This large scale, even epic French TV movie focuses on a platoon of French commandos, one of which (played by Emile Berling who is turning out to be as interesting an actor as his father Charles) becomes a conscientious deserter to the Viet Minh cause. As such, he becomes an object of obsessive hatred by a fellow loyalist commando (convincingly played by Abraham Belaga) who sets out on a personal mission to destroy his former mate. The film is both a war film and an historical explication of an era that is mostly swept under the rug in France (their colonial war in Algeria overshadowed it); but it has real resonance to Americans who were eventually caught up in the same Vietnamese morass. Director Erich Zonca, working with a restrained budget for TV, cements his reputation as one of the finest film makers currently working in France.

  • In the Name of My Daughter

    In the Name of My Daughter 2014

    ★★★½ Watched 27 Apr, 2015

    Catherine Deneuve still has "it" playing the ruthless owner of a cash-strapped Nice casino in 1976. Her unstable daughter (realistically played by Adèle Haenel) chafes for her inheritance; and falls obsessively in love with her mother's handsome, youngish, womanizing lawyer (a charismatic performance by Guillaume Canet.) That is the set-up for a financial thriller which becomes a different sort of murder mystery...roughly based on an actual case. Director Téchiné shows his usual flair for place and time in re-creating the sumptuous haut monde of the South of France, that hearkens back to the vicarious enjoyment of Jacque Demy's '60s romantic thriller Bay of Angels, set in a similar milieu. However the final act of the current film seemed incomplete and disappointing somehow.

  • Two Men in Town

    Two Men in Town 1973

    ★★★½ Watched 27 Apr, 2015

    In this gorgeously restored 1973 film, Alain Delon (still preternaturally handsome and also the producer of the film) plays a released convict (a mobster underling and bank robber in his youth) determined to go straight and settle down with the right woman. His release was abetted by an ex-cop who has become in retirement a supporter of prisoner's rights (Jean Gabin, convincingly huministic in one of his ultimate roles). However, the police detective that originally arrested him does not believe in Delon's sincerity and commences to hound him to the breaking point. That's the set-up for a powerful indictment of the status of released felons in France...plus (slight spoiler) an even more powerful indictment of the guillotine and capital punishment. The acting is impeccable; but there's a certain obviousness about the "message" that detracts just slightly from calling this film a masterpiece of film noir.

  • Un peu, beaucoup, aveuglément

    Un peu, beaucoup, aveuglément 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 26 Apr, 2015

    [Watched at a film festival under the name "Blind Date"]

    Clovis Cornillac is a fine French actor who tries his hand as a fledgling director in this clever and involving French romantic comedy (emphasis on both quirky romance and authentic amusement.) Cornillac directs himself as "Who's-it", a curmudgeonly urban hermit who has hardly left his domicile since his wife died 7 years earlier. His Paris walk-up apartment abuts another apartment with very thin walls, and Who's-it is phobic about noise. When a young woman pianist (plucky Mélanie Bernier) moves in next door, Who's-it desperately attempts to convince her that her new apartment is haunted so she would move. Instead, they strike up, unseen to each other, an unlikely romance through their common wall.

    This original premise was suggested to Cornillac by his wife, Lilou Fogli (who plays the sister of the neighboring girl.) The story is solid gold; and Cornillac is extremely effective directing the comedy and acting the central role. One can only hope that this film will lead Cornillac to further directing efforts...he's that good.

  • Une heure de tranquillité

    Une heure de tranquillité 2014

    ★★½ Watched 26 Apr, 2015

    [Watched at a film festival under the name "Do Not Disturb"]

    Veteran actor Christian Clavier is frenetically effective playing Michel, a bourgeois dentist and LP collector who finds a rare jazz record and wants nothing more than to listen to his discovery in peace and quiet. However, in the traditional French farce way, all bedlam ensues to ruin his day. This is the kind of farce that Francis Veber (The Dinner Game etc.) excels at. Only here, prolific French director Patrice Leconte seemed somewhat out of his depth, losing control of his film to silly situations and mediocre acting.

  • Les Héritiers

    Les Héritiers 2014

    ★★★★½ Watched 26 Apr, 2015

    [Watched at a film festival under the unimaginative title of "Once in a Lifetime."]

    Mme Gueguen is a high school history teacher faced with an unruly class of misfits in contemporary urban France. To try to involve her underachievers, she invites the class to participate in a national scholastic contest about children caught up in the Holocaust. Most of her classroom had never even heard of the Holocaust, initially regarding "genocide" as what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians today. But in this based on a true story film, the teacher (a magnificent performance by Ariane Ascaride) managed to reach these kids.

    This emotionally devastating and heartening film joins a handful of other films about a great teacher making an impact on deprived inner city kids, such as Stand and Deliver and Dangerous Minds (Michelle Pfeiffer's 1995 acting triumph). And even though the theme is familiar and perhaps somewhat predictable (since they were making a film about it to begin with), the execution here is superb. The students' discoveries of what happened in the 1940s in France and Poland, their awakening to the horrors the Nazis perpetrated, were so well portrayed that I found myself hopelessly tearful for most of the last half of the film. Even if some of the students were portrayed as archetypes rather than fully fleshed out characters, they still come thrillingly alive. This is committed film making of the highest order.

  • Brooklyn

    Brooklyn 2014

    ★★ Watched 26 Apr, 2015

    Coralie, AKA Brooklyn, is a young Swiss hip-hop singer, an angry black girl living in the impoverished projects in Saint-Denis (a suburb of Paris.) She becomes part of the lively, local club scene, falls for another rap singer, Issa, who turns out to be a real heel. This is slice-of-life stuff; but done rather amateurishly with hand-held camera and amateur actors. The music is authentic, at least, even if the rap lyrics in French do not translate at all well in the subtitles. KT Gorique is fine playing the dreadlocked Brooklyn; and I managed to enjoy her rapping even if I couldn't understand it. But I could find little else to relate to in her story.

  • L’Affaire SK1

    L’Affaire SK1 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 24 Apr, 2015

    Parisian police are stymied by bureaucratic inefficiency for years in tracking down a rapist and serial killer whose signature is slashing the throats of young women. One detective, Franck (a second memorable performance at this French film festival by Raphaël Personnaz) is obsessed by the case and perseveres for 8 years to solve the crimes. The film is structured "Law and Order" style, intercutting the ultimate trial of the perp with flashbacks of the crimes and showing how poorly the various departments at 36 Quai des Orfèvres coordinated in even establishing the existence of a serial killer for years. The film is bleak and realistic. It is as superb a throwback to the traditional film noir as we could hope for.

  • The Connection

    The Connection 2014

    ★★★½ Watched 24 Apr, 2015 2

    Jean Dujardin puts his classic movie star profile to good use playing true life Pierre Michel, the magistrate who toiled ceaselessly for six years in 1970s Marseilles, disregarding all danger, to bring to justice the ruthless heroin kingpin, French Connection Gaëtan Zampa. This was a well done policier that managed to humanize a large group of people on both sides of the law. I'll admit that I had a little trouble following the complexities of the case and the multiple characters; but the film was very effective at building tension and getting the era authentic. One personal problem I had was that the actor playing Zampa (Gilles Lellouche) looked so much like Dujardin that for a while I had trouble distinguishing who was which character. But in the final analysis, this was a thriller that thrilled.

  • The Water Diviner

    The Water Diviner 2014

    ★★★½ Watched 25 Apr, 2015

    A grieving Australian father overcomes great odds trying to find the remains of his sons who died in battle at Gallipoli in WWI. That's the premise of this heartfelt film which combines a war story (in flashbacks) and a family story into a mini-epic. Director Russell Crowe exerts admirable control over star Russell Crowe, who gives a charismatic, if restrained performance. In this "based on a true story" script, Crowe's character is given psychic abilities: as a water dowser at home in the Australian outback, and then as a diviner of dead spirits on the old battlefield four years after the event. It's a tribute to the good script that I bought the concept.

  • The Age of Adaline

    The Age of Adaline 2015

    ★★★ Watched 25 Apr, 2015

    After an auto accident and near-death experience, Adaline (Blake Lively, never more alluring) doesn't age. It's a ridiculous premise...but one that is explained away about as well as it probably can be. Since this is a romantic chick flick, there's Ellis, a rich and handsome gentleman (Michiel Huisman) who ought to be in Adaline's future (although since he's mortal, she is afraid to commit). And then there's Ellis' father (Harrison Ford, my god he's my age and he's still hot!) who knew Adaline back when; and Adaline's daughter (Ellen Burstyn playing Blake Lively's daughter...told you it's all rather ridiculous!) But I'm a sucker for this kind of film. And the gorgeous cinematography and San Francisco setting didn't hurt. For me, this is the epitome of the guilty pleasure.

  • Next Time I'll Aim for the Heart

    Next Time I’ll Aim for the Heart 2014

    ★★★½ Watched 24 Apr, 2015

    Guillaume Canet is chillingly unemoting playing Franck, a Gendarme who is also a psychopathic serial killer who randomly stalks young women hitchhikers. The film doesn't quite connect the dots psychologically. Is Franck a repressed, self-loathing homosexual? The film maybe hints at that; but it isn't made at all clear what motivates the man. However, the film is based on the true story of serial killer Alain Lamare; and the bleak, wintery forests north of Paris make an appropriate setting for such a downer of a story.

  • The Great Museum

    The Great Museum 2014

    ★★½ Watched 03 Jun, 2014

    This documentary is an exhaustive behind the scenes look at the remodel process of the great Vienna museum, the Kunsthistorisches. The building itself is spectacularly visual; and the collection of historical artifacts and Hapsburg art is huge (more Victoria & Albert kitsch than London National Gallery). The film is shot Frederick Wiseman style, with no narration and very little explanatory material other than what people are talking about in meetings and tours of the construction sites. After a while it all seemed tedious, even if the gradual construction process was educational. In any case, I'm sure that a visit to the museum now that the project is completed would be enhanced by having seen this documentary.

  • The Ponzi Scheme

    The Ponzi Scheme 2014

    ★½ Watched 24 Apr, 2015

    This is a French TV movie which roughly follows the marriage and career of famed con man Charles Ponzi, an Italian immigrant who post-WWI cheated many rubes in Boston and spent years in prison before dying penniless in Brazil in 1941. The film is cheaply made, with many obvious process shots with period backgrounds (including one of Market Street in San Francisco, ridiculously passing for Boston). The mechanisms of Ponzi's scheme are intrinsically boring; and the film is shamelessly badly acted.

  • Gemma Bovery

    Gemma Bovery 2014

    ★★★½ Watched 22 Apr, 2015

    This contemporary comedy satire tells the story of a sophisticated, well-read rural French baker (Fabrice Luchini, at the top of his farceur game) who becomes obsessed with the English couple (the Bovery's) who move in across the street. Gemma Arterton makes an ideal modern version of Madame Bovary (and youthful Niels Schneider, looking like a Grecian god, is perfect as the Rodolphe surrogate). Anne Fontaine cleverly adapted the contemporary English novel, which uses Flaubert's original story as the starting point of a delightful, if somewhat unlikely, take on modern day mores.

  • Five Day Lover

    Five Day Lover

    ★★★ Watched 22 Apr, 2015

    Director Philippe de Broca isn't known for his romantic comedies; but this amoral romp from 1961 is actually somewhat fun and perhaps well worth watching in 2015. Jean-Pierre Cassel (these days best known as the father of Vincent...but back then one of my favorite actors) played Antoine, a relentless womanizer who sneakily romanced his long-time mistress's best friend. Cassel was immensely likable here, using his lithe body and quick wit to ingratiate his heel-like character. Jean Seberg, fresh from making her mark in Breathless, was never more fetching and movie-star beautiful as Claire, Antoine's American expat conquest. And Micheline Presle rounded out the triangle as the wealthy couturiere who had been keeping Antoine until he strayed with her best friend. The B&W film was carefully restored; but I'd have to say that this very French, very wicked bedroom farce overdid the amorality of the characters to the point of disbelief.

  • Pilules Bleues

    Pilules Bleues 2014

    ★★★★½ Watched 23 Apr, 2015

    In 2008, Swiss artist Frederik Peeters published an autobiographical graphic novel called "Blue Pills". This extraordinary French TV movie was adapted from that novel and partially fictionalized. But the core narrative remained...one of the most heartening and optimistic HIV stories I've ever experienced. In the film, JB (an amazing performance by attractive actor Guillaume Gouix, who was so fine playing mute in last year's film Attila Marcel) is a graphic artist who falls in love with a woman (a sensitive performance by Florence Loiret Caille) who soon discloses that she and her young child Oscar were both HIV positive. This was in 1999, when HIV was no longer a certain death sentence due to the release of the "blue pills" retroviral therapies. How JB, HIV negative and somewhat naive, coped with this "discordant" relationship with dawning comprehension and affection is the set-up for the graphic novel and film. The relationship thrived and engendered a new HIV negative daughter thanks to those blue pills.

    On a personal note, this film rang especially true to me since I was once part of an ill fated discordant relationship myself before the invention of the "blue pills." For me, this wonderfully optimistic and timely story had a resonance and a truthfulness which affected me deeply.

  • The Gate

    The Gate 2014

    ★★★★ Watched 21 Apr, 2015

    In 1971, the Khmer Rouge was in the process of taking over Cambodia by force and instituting what became the "killing fields." This film is the based-on-a-true story of François Bizot, a French ethnologist (beautifully portrayed by Raphäel Personnaz) who is captured by the rebels and imprisoned for several years as a CIA spy, until finally a Khmer soldier named Duch believes his innocence and he is released. However that is only the start of a long journey which ultimately culminates in the revelation that Bizot's savior was an accused torturer and executor of thousands. The film is both a horrifying prisoner story, and a fascinating political parable of good and evil which spans 30 years. Director Régis Wagoner has created an authentic, horrifying, personalized depiction of one of the bleakest eras of the 20th century.

  • The Last Hammer Blow

    The Last Hammer Blow 2014

    ★★★ Watched 21 Apr, 2015

    Young, first-time actor Romain Paul plays Victor. He's 13, going on 14, a fine soccer player, clever and personable, but troubled. He lives in a seaside trailer park in the South of France with his unwed mother who is dying of cancer. His birth father, a semi-famous orchestra conductor, recently returned to the area to lead the local symphony, has not acknowledged him; but Victor seeks him out and the two gradually start a relationship. Young Paul is a true find: with sparse dialogue he manages to bring his character to life with his eyes and body language. Music plays a major role in the film, with Mahler's tragic Sixth Symphony used as a metaphor for the boy's situation. This is a subtle, personal film. Not much happens on the surface; but I felt great sympathy for the boy.

  • Will It Snow for Christmas?

    Will It Snow for Christmas? 1996

    ★★★★ Watched 21 Apr, 2015

    Years before, a woman (an incandescent performance by Dominique Reymond) had entered a relationship with a married man, had seven children with him out-of-wedlock, and along with her children virtually ran her lover's second farm (the man also has a separate family farm with his wife and legitimate children and lives a double life known to both women). This lovingly restored new print of the 1996 film is almost documentary like in its depiction of the hardscrabble life led by the "other" woman and her children working on a large vegetable farm from summer to Christmas. The film presents its drama by slowly accumulating incidents which ultimately becomes an illuminating family story; but it is also one of unrequited love with the potential for real tragedy. I'm not sure if the surprising ending is a cop-out or not. But this heartrending, earthy little film deserves to find an audience.

  • Child 44

    Child 44 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 19 Apr, 2015

    A serial killer is preying undetected on young boys in Stalin's Soviet Union (the capitalist disease of murder does not exist in Paradise by official decree.) Amidst the official corruption, an obsessive minor KGB official (another fabulous performance by Tom Hardy) becomes determined to expose the official duplicity and capture the perpetrator. That is the set-up for this atmospheric thriller, which artfully captures the bleakness and paranoia of the Soviet era. I'll admit that I got lost in some of the complex plot developments. I feel compelled to read the novel to try to unravel what confused me. Nevertheless I was impressed by the film making: powerful sound design, darkly realistic cinematography, eerie score and great acting all around.

  • True Story

    True Story 2015

    ★★★ Watched 18 Apr, 2015

    Based on a notorious true crime story (Oregon man allegedly kills his wife and two children), this film is told from the point of view of a disgraced New York Times reporter who is given privileged access to the accused perpetrator while the latter is awaiting trial. The film becomes an ongoing mind game between the manipulative, psychopathic killer (James Franco, totally convincing) and the reporter (Jonah Hill nicely adding to his drama acting cred). This is an intelligent film, well acted especially in the intimate encounters between the two principals. But when the film leaves the prison interview room and delves into the reporter's back story (distressed marriage to a wasted Felicity Jones), and the tedious procedurals of the trial, the film loses steam.

  • The Longest Ride

    The Longest Ride 2015

    ★★ Watched 18 Apr, 2015

    A young couple learn life lessons from an old coot. Scott Eastwood, playing a brave, but foolhardy rodeo bucking bull rider, is a chip off the old block...even better looking than his dad, but somewhat deficient in the acting department. His affair with perky Britt Robertson has little chemistry until they rescue an old man (Alan Alda) whose life story told in flashbacks inspires them. As much as I could ridicule the sappy present day story, in typical original novelist Nicholas Sparks fashion (c.f. The Notebook), the secondary back story moved me to tears, despite my reluctance to go there. The film looked great; and maybe in the hands of a better director this chick flick (god I hate that term) might not have seemed so contrived.

  • Boychoir

    Boychoir 2014

    ★★★★ Watched 12 Apr, 2015

    The story of the unruly bastard orphan boy with the beautiful soprano voice who is saved by joining a prep school choir is predictable and cliche ridden. However the film has some saving graces: wonderful acting, gorgeous choral music and a director with true artistic sensibility. Plus I didn't even know how much I've missed Debra Winger and her heartfelt intelligence, probably my favorite actress.

    A personal story which might explain the "like" rating for this film. When I was prepubescent, I was a soprano soloist in the L.A. all-city choir. Then, just like 11-year old Stet in this film (a nice performance by young Garrett Wareing) my voice changed, and I no longer could control the timbre and steady pitch of my vocals. I never sang again. This film rang true for me...nice job all around.

  • Ex Machina

    Ex Machina 2015

    ★★★★ Watched 10 Apr, 2015

    Genius inventor-programmer Nathan (another charismatic performance by Oscar Isaac) has created a female robot (Alicia Vikander) which may or may not have independent intelligence. To test this, Nathan brings star employee Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) to his hideaway country mansion to perform a Touring Test on the robot. That is the set-up for this intriguing, if slow and arty, film which progresses into a variation of the Dr. Frankenstein story (too bad that inventor Nathan had apparently never studied Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics"). The intelligent dialogue sparkled. The Norwegian mountain/forest location for the scientist's electronically advanced, if sterile, compound was stunningly beautiful. And the sexual tension between the characters was heavy enough to cut with a knife. This is cautionary tale, well told and subtly terrifying.

  • Love Is in the Air

    Love Is in the Air 2013

    ★★ Watched 07 Jun, 2013

    (Originally reviewed here as another 2005 film with the same name, due to translation confusion. This review now refers to the correct film.)

    This is a stale French romantic comedy not much different from dozens of others. He's a "player", she's an artist. They once had an affair, it ended badly, they meet again on a plane flight, rehash old times. You know what is going to happen (but hope in vain that somehow the film will go someplace novel like they all die in a plane crash). Still, the characters are attractive (Ludivine Sagnier is lovely and perky as usual; but Nicolas Bedos as the guy lacks the necessary chemistry.) It isn't enough.

  • Woman in Gold

    Woman in Gold 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 05 Apr, 2015

    This is the familiar to me story of how plucky Austrian Holocaust escapee Maria Altmann (a superb performance by Helen Mirren) regained her family's famed Klimt portrait of her aunt that was stolen by the Nazis and held fraudulently by the Vienna state museum. The surprise is how effective Ryan Reynolds is playing the young lawyer Randol Schoenberg who helped her [spoiler!] win her case against heavy odds. The script is straightforward and fairly obvious (if she had lost there surely wouldn't have been a film). Nevertheless, I was enthralled by this intelligent, true-life legal thriller.

  • Effie Gray

    Effie Gray 2014

    ★★★ Watched 05 Apr, 2015

    The real-life Effie Gray was a virginal Scottish lass in mid-19th century England who was trapped in a marriage to the cold, mamma's-boy literary critic John Ruskin (who was at least asexual and never consummated the marriage.) The film is a feminist, period costume drama, which colors the Victorian age with the hindsight of modern psychology. The script (by Emma Thompson) continues her fascination with the era she first explored with her script for Sense and Sensibility. Dakota Fanning was convincingly passive playing Effie; but for me the breakout performance was by Tom Sturridge who played the dashing painter Everett Millais, who tried to rescue Effie from her poisonous marriage. The film was dark and authentic to the time; but for me it dragged a bit in the second act. The story ended on an unresolved note...I think I would have preferred another type of film that would have started where the present film ended.

  • Furious 7

    Furious 7 2015

    ★★★ Watched 04 Apr, 2015

    Imagine the Roadrunner cartoons remade as a live action flick and you get some idea of the belief defying action stunts in this film. Remember the times Willy Coyote runs off a cliff and then realizes mid-air that he's going to get flattened? You get the idea - each gravity defying stunt topping the one that came before. It's all so outrageous, yet so inventively written, edited and performed that it just works somehow, even if the physics and medical reality don't compute. If only the many overlong hand-to-hand fight scenes were as inventive. Some judicious paring might have made for a better film. But I suppose that's beside the point for the intended audience of action junkies. The film ends with a tribute to Paul Walker, and I must admit that I misted up a bit.

  • Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

    Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief 2015

    ★★★½ Watched 02 Apr, 2015

    This documentary is quite a successful hatchet job on the "Church" of Scientology. The film is comprised mainly of interviews with several apostate ex-honchos of the "religion," plus some terrifying historic footage which fostered inevitable comparisons to filmed Nazi rallies with current leader David Miskovich in the role of Hitler. Oh, there's lots more...crazy, paranoid founder L. Ron Hubbard; pampered celebrities used as public relations dupes (Tom Cruise after Nicole was "disconnected" as a "suppressive person," and John Travolta, who may or may not be a victim of blackmail); and the monetary billions that the church has amassed after its suspicious tax exemption victory over the I.R.S. But for all its effectiveness as exposé, the film could have been structured better to be more pointed.

    Living in Hollywood, I'm well acquainted with the success of the church, which owns much property in this area. And in full disclosure mode, I've had dealings with the church when my company was contracted to do film work for them back in the 1990s. I witnessed first hand (but without personal consequences) the kind of brainwashing that ostensibly blissful church minions underwent. But for all that, this unpleasant, disquieting, revealing documentary still came as a shock...and hopefully the revelations will cause lasting damage to the reputation and future of this monster fraud.

Mozart in the Jungle 2014

★★★½ Watched 03 Jan, 2015

The first season of 10 half-hour episodes of this Amazon Prime series were well worth watching...if only for the luminous and ingratiating performance by Gael Garcia Bernal as the new, young conductor of the New York Philharmonic orchestra. Other than that it is a reasonably enjoyable serialized romantic comedy based on classical music, drugs and sex. The production values are as high as most of the pay cable, single camera rom-coms. And veteran performers Bernadette Peters and Malcolm McDowell are pleasantly hammy. However most of the other characters are wan creations, including a mostly wasted turn by gorgeous Saffron Burrows. I'll watch a second season if it is offered.